WARSAW (Dispatches) – A group of migrants broke through defenses on the border with Belarus and entered Poland near the village of Starzyna, police said on Sunday, as the situation on the frontier becomes increasingly tense.
Thousands of migrants have travelled to Belarus in the hope of crossing into the European Union (EU), only to find themselves trapped on the border in freezing conditions.
“Yesterday, before 5 pm, around 50 people broke into Poland near Starzyna,” Podlaska police said on Twitter.
All of the people were caught by Polish uniformed services and brought back to the border, Border Guard spokeswoman Katarzyna Zdanowicz told Polish state news agency PAP.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia was ready to help resolve a migrant crisis on the border between Belarus and Poland.
“We are ready to help it by all means if of course anything would depend on us,” Putin was quoted as saying by RIA news agency reported on Sunday citing an interview on a state TV channel.
Russia is a key ally of Belarus, which the European Union says was responsible for flying in thousands of migrants, most of them from the Middle East, and pushing them to try to cross illegally into Poland.
Russia denies Moscow and Minsk were involved. Putin blamed the West for the crisis referring to conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Putin said in the interview he had spoken with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko twice since the migrant crisis began but had initially learned about it from media.
Lukashenko says he plans to deploy Russian nuclear-capable Iskander missile systems in the south and west of the country, amid growing tensions with Brussels over a migrant crisis on the border with Poland.
Lukashenko announced on Saturday plans for the deployment of the Iskander mobile ballistic missile system, which has a range of up to 500 kilometers and can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads.
“I need several divisions in the west and the south, let them stand (there),” he said in an interview with a Russian defense magazine, referring to the Belarusian border with EU members Poland and Lithuania in the west and Ukraine in the south.
Lukashenko gave no indication of whether he had held any talks with Moscow about receiving the missile system.
Polish Muslim Leader Helps
Maciej Szczęsnowicz cried when he saw migrants at the border for the first time, hungry and exhausted from the ordeal of being stuck while trying to enter Poland.
The chairman of the local Muslim community in the eastern Polish village of Bohoniki, Szczęsnowicz saw people so tired they could no longer stand, so hungry that they picked mushrooms from the ground to eat and when given an apple, ate the seeds.
But what hurt him the most was hearing the sounds of their suffering.
“It’s the sound of the crying and screaming of the children,” he said. “It’s the worst thing.”
As Poland has seen migrants from the Middle East crossing from Belarus into an area of forests and swamps, Szczęsnowicz has gotten to work helping to collect clothing and prepare food for them.
The AP visited Szczęsnowicz on Saturday in a restaurant where he and other volunteers were preparing a large pot of steaming chicken and vegetable soup. It was destined for soldiers and other guards on the border, but he hopes that some also makes its way to the migrants.
While the border zone is off-limits due a state of emergency in force since early September, his delivery of soup to the border has given him access others do not have — and a view of the suffering of the people just across razor wire fences in Belarus.
To Polish and EU politicians, the arrival of the migrants, most of whom are Muslims from the Middle East, is viewed as a ‘problem’ to stop.
But there is a significant number of Poles who simply see human beings in need of a helping hand and have been seeking ways to help them.