Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Polish riot police officers and a migrant are seen near the Bruzgi-Kuznica crossing point on the Belarusian-Polish border.

Polish riot police officers and a migrant are seen near the Bruzgi-Kuznica crossing point on the Belarusian-Polish border. Polish border guards use tear gas and water jets to disperse migrants. (Photo: Leonid Shcheglov\TASS via Getty Images)

Refugees Face Tear Gas, Water Cannons as Violence Escalates at Poland-Belarus Border

The unrest at the Belarus-Poland border comes as the Lukashenko government faces fresh sanctions.

Andrea Germanos

A group of migrants trapped in freezing conditions at the Belarus-Poland border faced water cannons and tear gas by Polish border guards on Tuesday amid an ongoing humanitarian and political crisis.

Polish forces put the blame for the violence, which took place near the Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing, on some of the thousands of migrants throwing objects.

"Migrants attacked our soldiers and officers with rocks and are trying to destroy the fence and cross into Poland," Poland's defense ministry said Tuesday. "Our forces used tear gas to quell the migrants' aggression."

The migrants, many of them refugees fleeing war-torn nations in the Middle East, are trying to enter the E.U. at its eastern edge.

Western powers have blamed Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko's government of orchestrating the crisis—retaliation, as Al Jazeera put it, "for E.U. sanctions imposed on the leader after his disputed re-election last year and his crackdown on mass pro-democracy protests."

The Polish government, the New York Times reported, has banned journalists from the border and "has come under criticism from humanitarian organizations for a legal amendment it passed in October that allows migrants to be pushed back at the border and for asylum claims made by those who entered illegally to be ignored."

For those at the makeshift camp, it's a life-or-death situation. "Most are fleeing conflict, poverty, or hopelessness in Syria and Iraq and hope to reach western Europe," the Associated Press reported, noting the deaths of 11 people so far.

“Die here or die in my country; a lot of us have the same situation," said one Iraqi-Kurdish migrant.

According to BBC News:

The migrants, including children, have been living in makeshift camps in freezing conditions just inside Belarus. In recent days, thousands have converged on a crossing at Kuznica, south of Grodno in northwest Belarus.

On Monday, many of those migrants burst through a fence and gathered at a crossing on the Belarusian side of the border. They were blocked by Polish troops and a tense stand-off ensued.

By Tuesday morning, Poland's defense ministry said its forces had responded to migrants attacking a border fence at Kuznica.

The deepening tensions triggered the E.U. to ready a new round of sanctions targeting Lukashenko's government. E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Monday they would target "people, airlines, travel agencies and everybody involved on this illegal push of migrants on our borders."

The situation elicited strong criticism last week from human rights defenders.

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, called the crisis "intolerable" and said "the strong security-focused and politically charged responses on both sides—including through the increased deployment of troops—and accompanying inflammatory rhetoric, serve only to exacerbate the vulnerability and risks that migrants and refugees face."

The Norwegian Refugee Council’s Secretary General Jan Egeland expressed similar criticism.

He called it "shocking to witness Europe's inability to properly handle such a low number of migrants stranded at the Poland-Belarus border."

In addition, said Egeland, Belarus "using migrants and refugees to achieve political ends is equally outrageous. Vulnerable people are not chess pawns to be used in a geopolitical struggle."

"But," he added, "this does not in any way free Europe from its responsibility to ensure that people turning up on our borders are allowed to seek asylum and are treated humanely."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

US Must Tackle Marine Plastics Pollution 'From Source to Sea': Report

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study found that the U.S. is responsible for about a quarter of the plastics that enter the world's oceans each year.

Brett Wilkins ·


First US Omicron Case Confirmed as WHO Chief Decries Failure to Share Vaccines Globally

Factors including low vaccine coverage have created "a recipe for breeding and amplifying variants," the top health official said.

Andrea Germanos ·


Since Congress Lifted Crude Export Ban in 2015, US Has Dropped 'Climate Bomb' on World

Oil and gas exports from the Gulf Coast have surged by nearly 600%, and fossil fuel production in the Permian Basin has grown by 135%.

Kenny Stancil ·


Marking World AIDS Day, Campaigners Warn 'History Is Repeating Itself With Covid'

"In Africa alone, it's estimated up to 12 million people died needlessly in the time it took to make HIV treatment universally available. We cannot allow it to happen again with Covid-19."

Jake Johnson ·


Poll: Majority of Young Americans Say US Democracy 'in Trouble' or Already 'Failed'

"After turning out in record numbers in 2020, young Americans are sounding the alarm."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo