There were chaotic scenes at the Bruzgi-Kuźnica border crossing, where crowds of migrants could be seen breaking concrete blocks and picking up tree branches to throw them to the Polish side.
Loud explosions echoed through the crowd and a thick cloud of smoke hung over their heads. Belarusian state media BeITA reported that water cannons used by Polish forces sprayed a yellow liquid that caused burns, and that people were suffocating and gagging from the smoke. A CNN team was hit by the water fired by Polish guards.
According to BelTA, the deputy director of the Department of Radiation, Chemical and Biological Protection and Ecology of the Belarusian Armed Forces, Igor Malyk, told reporters that the Polish security forces had used “toxic chemicals” against the refugees.
“Today we have witnessed how the Polish security forces on the Belarusian-Polish border used special means containing toxic irritating chemicals against refugees, including women and children,” Malyk said.
The women and children who, just a day earlier, had camped in tents near the border fence had retreated, and the men, many of them expressing anger at being left in limbo in dire conditions, were racking up in the most dramatic matchups to date. “We are fighting to stay alive,” one man told CNN.
The Polish Border Guard said on Tuesday that the migrants camped near the Bruzgi-Kuźnica checkpoint were behaving “aggressively”, throwing stones and various objects at Polish services. “To prevent illegal border crossing, water cannons were used against aggressive foreigners,” the security agency said on Twitter.
Polish security services spokesman Stanisław Żaryn wrote on Twitter on Tuesday about the clashes, congratulating Polish forces for successfully repelling the “first wave of attacks on the border.”
BelTA reported “a worsening situation” at the border on Tuesday, as migrants try “by all means to reach Poland” and Polish authorities respond with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons, “pouring water over people in the cold. “
“People say they are tired of waiting and ready to break through,” according to BeITA.
‘We go back to Iraq’
Anton Bychkovsky, spokesman for the Belarusian Border Guard State Committee, told BelTA that the agency was launching an investigation into the “incident” on Tuesday.
It is not clear what caused the clashes on Tuesday, but there is a growing sense of frustration among migrants that Europe is not welcoming them. Now they face conditions that the United Nations has called “catastrophic”: they suffer from hunger and hypothermia and camp in flimsy tents in makeshift camps on the border.
For the past 48 hours, rumors have circulated in the camps that the Polish government could open the border and allow a humanitarian corridor through Germany. Poland has flatly denied this and people gathered in the area have received text messages from the Polish authorities saying the information was a “total lie and nonsense”.
The SMS message, also received by members of the CNN team in the area, reads in part: “Poland will not allow immigrants to pass into Germany. It will protect its border. Do not be fooled, do not try to take any action.”
Polish forces appeared to have dispersed the crowds from the border checkpoint when night fell Tuesday, with some returning to a camp in the woods while other vulnerable people were herded inside.
The Belarusian border agency told CNN that some migrants, including women, children and people with medical conditions, were transferred 1.5 kilometers to a processing center, where they will receive shelter, food and medical treatment. Officials also told CNN that a decision will be made on whether to deport them back to their home countries. Most of those gathered at the border are from the Middle East and Asia.
Families could be seen walking away from the scene of the fighting, with exhausted children in tow, some carried on their parents’ shoulders. When asked by CNN where he was going, one man said, “Back to Iraq. Goodbye Belarus.”
BelTA also reported Tuesday evening that Lukashenko had instructed the local governor of Grodno to help set up a logistics center to receive refugees.
Lukashenko puts migrants’ lives’ at risk ‘
The government of President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly denied such claims, blaming the West for the crossings and accusing it of mistreating migrants.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that the military alliance is “deeply concerned about the way the Lukashenko regime is using vulnerable migrants as a hybrid tactic against other countries, and this is actually putting the lives of migrants at risk “.
He spoke before a meeting with EU defense ministers on Tuesday, and a day after warning Moscow that NATO would support Ukraine against “possible aggressive actions” amid a large concentration of Russian troops near Russia’s borders. Ukraine. Ukraine is not a member of NATO or the EU.
Military movements continue to test a fragile political order in the region and deepen concerns about the potential for a broader geopolitical crisis.
Lukashenko spoke with Russian allied President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday about the situation on the Belarus border, days after the two countries showed their military might near Poland in joint paratrooper drills.
The leaders also discussed the situation in neighboring Ukraine and US-led exercises near Russia’s borders and in the Black Sea, Lukashenko’s office said.
Russia, Belarus’ largest political and economic partner, continues to defend Minsk’s handling of the border crisis while denying any involvement in it.
The EU and NATO have reaffirmed their support for Poland. The EU’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, has asked Belarus to take “urgent measures” to ensure the restoration of border security.
Jakub Kumoch, head of the Polish President’s Bureau for International Policy, said in a statement late Tuesday that any new sanctions against Belarus should be “long-lasting” and “affect as many people as possible responsible for leading to this tragedy.” .
Matthew Chance, Zahra Ullah and Antonia Mortensen reported near the Polish-Belarusian border, and Katharina Krebs reported from Moscow. Eliza Mackintosh wrote from London.