As refugees enter Poland, they obtain an SMS: Go again to Minsk!

Sokolka, Poland – As foreigners approach Poland’s border with Belarus, they mechanically – as this reporter did – obtain a easy and clear textual content message on their telephones.

“The Polish border is sealed. BLR authorities told you lies. Go back to Minsk!” the SMS reads, referring to Belarus.

The textual content additionally included a warning to not take any “pills” from Belarusian troopers, a reference to unverified stories that Belarusian border guards had given folks tablets which can embody methadone with a view to “survive” the harmful crossing to the opposite facet.

The message has been despatched to the hundreds of refugees and migrants who’ve tried to breach the frontier and enter Poland from Belarus in latest weeks, those who rights teams say are getting used as instruments in a months-long dispute between the West and Russia-allied Minsk.

The disaster deepened this week as lots of extra headed to the border in scenes some observers say are akin to these from the early phases of the 2015 European refugee disaster.

Poland has responded by strengthening its border to repel the rising numbers arriving from Belarus, with Warsaw and its allies accusing the administration of President Alexander Lukashenko – and Russian chief Vladimir Putin – of encouraging folks to make the perilous journey in the direction of Central Europe.

According to them, Minsk is performing in revenge, attempting to destabilise Europe in return for Western sanctions on Belarus after final yr’s disputed election that handed Lukashenko a sixth time period – and the next crackdown on dissent.

The escalating dispute has drawn in leaders from throughout the EU, NATO and the United States.

‘Difficult situation at the border’

In September, Poland launched a state of emergency within the zone bordering Belarus.

Journalists and help employees are prevented from accessing the realm, which is 3km (about 2 miles) from Belarus and covers about 200 sleepy cities and villages. Only those that can show they’re native residents can move one of many many roadblocks arrange.

At a foggy stretch of highway near Poland’s Kuznica border crossing with Belarus, a gaggle of Polish border guards in fluorescent vests cease to test every automobile that passes in both route.

“There is a difficult situation at the border,” says one guard. “You need to turn around.”

He shakes his head to underline the purpose – nobody can proceed to the border space the place hundreds are gathered, hoping to hunt asylum on European Union territory.

At one other checkpoint additional down the border, guards cease one other automobile and search the boot earlier than turning the motive force again.

Polish safety forces have arrange quite a few roadblocks within the border area [Marko Djurica/Reuters]

Temperatures are icy within the quiet border city of Sokolka.

Police vehicles and military vans trundle alongside streets lined with Polish flags to rejoice Polish National Independence Day on November 11.

A 15-minute drive away, a humanitarian disaster is unfolding on the razor-wire fences of the Polish-Belarusian border because the crowds, together with households with younger youngsters, are trapped within the geopolitical tug of conflict on the EU’s border.

This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russia – Belarus’s principal ally – to intervene whereas European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen raised the disaster in a gathering with US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC.

“We have to protect our democracies from this kind of cynical geopolitical power play,” she informed reporters on the White House.

European Council President Charles Michel recommended on Wednesday for the primary time that the EU may legally fund a border barrier, breaking with a longstanding custom of refusals on the a part of EU officers to supply any sort of funding for border partitions.

Meanwhile, as political tensions simmer with no signal of decision, refugees face the grim prospect of one other evening out within the chilly, risking starvation and hypothermia.

Warsaw has deployed hundreds of troopers to Poland’s border with Belarus amid the continued disaster [File: Grzegorz Dabrowski/Agencja Gazeta/via Reuters]

Crystal van Leuwen, a medical emergency supervisor for Poland/Belarus/Lithuania programme of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), which has groups on all sides of the border, informed Al Jazeera that the group has been unable to entry the restricted zone in Poland regardless of repeated requests.

Some folks MSF has handled have reported excessive violence by the hands of EU border guards, stated van Leuwen.

“People have described, in their own words, as being hit with the butt of a gun and kicked in the ribs,” she stated.

“One person described that they had been electrocuted in the neck, with physical injuries which looked like what a Taser would leave. We have also treated people with severe dehydration and hypothermia, and significant mental illnesses including post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as people who have attempted suicide as a result of not knowing how to cope with the situation they have found themselves in.”

At the time of publishing, EU officers had not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for touch upon these claims.

Van Leuwen stated the present narrative surrounding the so-called weaponisation of individuals on the move distracted from critical medical points on the bottom.

“These are people, these are individuals and seeking asylum is not a crime. They have a right to due process and to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Van Leuwen additionally famous that opposite to stories suggesting that it was primarily younger, single males on the border, their groups had met folks of all ages, together with households, pregnant girls and youngsters.