Note: The original print letter was mailed on May 20, 2022, followed by distribution of a digital copy via email on May 21, 2022.
Andrzej Emeryk Mańkowski, Consul General
Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Vancouver
1600-1177 West Hastings Street
Vancouver, BC V6E 2K3
May 20, 2022
RE: Human Rights of Migrants, Refugees, and Asylum-seekers at the Polish-Belarusian Border
Dear Consul General Andrzej Mańkowski,
Following Russia's militarized and violent invasion of sovereign and democratic Ukraine, millions of Ukrainian residents have been forced to flee their homes to protect themselves and their families. Poland’s response has been largely grounded in humanity and empathy, and is a source of international pride in this dark and difficult time. We commend the Polish government for its humanitarian response and for prioritizing the processing and intake of refugees fleeing Ukraine as quickly as possible through to safety.
The situation on the Ukrainian border has shown that Poland is able and willing to exercise empathy and compassion on a state level. We ask that Poland extends similar compassion and urgent action to all migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers looking for safety at its borders. Since the crisis began in 2021, thousands of people from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa have been seeking refuge at the Polish-Belarusian border. These migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers are unwittingly used as instruments in Belarus’s hybrid political attack on Poland in response to the European Union’s sanctions on Belarus following the fraudulent Belarusian election in 2020. 
Last year, the Polish Border Guard claimed to have detained over 2,740 migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, and prevented over 33,770 attempts to cross the Polish-Belrusian border.  In 2022, the Polish Border Guard has already apprehended over 1,180 migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers, and continues to apprehend more weekly.  While significant numbers of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers have been repatriated or deported, many remain trapped in the surrounding forested border region under severe, life-threatening conditions, with limited to no access to basic human needs, such as water, food, shelter, warm clothing and healthcare.  Reports of violent and inhumane treatment of migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers along the Polish-Belarusian border cite the Polish Border Guard using excessive force, including pushbacks, water cannons and tear gas, to deter border crossing attempts.  Amnesty International reports that many of the thousands of detainees were subjected to verbally abusive comments, racists statements, punishment, and other dehumanizing treatment and abuses, including “strip searches in unsanitary, overcrowded facilities, and in some cases even forcible sedation and tasering” perpetrated by Polish authorities. 
The Polish non-governmental organization Grupa Granica stated in February that it continued to locate between 40 and 80 migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers each week in Białowieża Forest.  Activists reported that at least 24 people have lost their lives while trying to find refuge.  Exact numbers of casualties are difficult to determine, as Poland has limited the access of human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, lawyers, and media to the area.  Four volunteer Polish activists were arrested in late March. Grupa Granica stated that these detained activists were providing humanitarian aid to a family with seven children that had been trapped at the border for three months before entering Poland.  The Polish Government is currently building a wall along the Belarusian border to further deter the migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers from entering Poland.  Meanwhile, the crisis is likely to worsen as Belarusian authorities have recently evicted hundreds of migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers from the village Bruzgi, stranding hundreds of more people in the forested border regions. 
We urge the Polish government to comply with its obligations under international law and human rights treaties, including the United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, and the UN 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees ratified by Poland in 1991, as well as customary international laws, conventions and standards protecting migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers from race-, ethnicity- and gender-based discrimination as well as cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.
We implore the Polish government to put in place policies and supporting processes to instruct and enable all agencies involved in the processing of migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers at the Polish-Belarusian border to ensure:
We echo the reminder of the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Liz Throssell, that detention of civilians should be an exceptional measure of last resort, and should only be used for a limited period of time, if at all. We reiterate Amnesty International’s plea to keep families together, both at the border and by assisting individuals in uniting with loved ones once they have crossed the Polish-Belarusian border into safety. 
Russia’s violent invasion of Ukraine has reminded us that we must stand by one another in times of conflict in order to preserve lives and peace to our utmost powers. Poland’s response to Ukraine’s plight has shown that Polish citizens value freedom, peace, stability, and humanity. The response has also shown that as human beings, we are all connected and we must strive to understand and help one another. In the face of Belarusian antagonism and hostility towards migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers, Poland must prioritize a humanitarian and empathetic response. We implore the democratically elected Polish government to use the power vested upon it by its citizens to act in the best interest of the human rights of our fellow global citizens, regardless of their place of origin.
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