Environmentalists and human rights activists criticise border wall between Poland and Belarus
Warsaw(Poland), July 4
A 18 feet high steel wall constructed on the border between Belarus and Poland, being touted as an instrument to prevent asylum seekers from entering Poland from Belarus is attracting lot of criticism from environmentalists and human rights activists.
The 186 km long wall that was inaugurated by the Polish Minister has not gone down well with the human rights activists who are accusing the polish government for adopting double standards by trying to stop asylum seekers from Middle East and Africa and welcoming those from Ukraine.
Poland has earned lot of praise from the international community for opening up its doors to scores of refugees fleeing the war-torn neighbouring country of Ukraine. But with the coming of this wall, many activists and citizens are now a worried lot, “The money could have been used for launching an effective and humane migration policy,” said a spokesperson of Fundcja Ocalenie, a Warsaw based NGO that helps refugees.
In 2021, Poland faced a border crisis with Belarus on it’s frontiers and had then decided to construct a wall. Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki claimed that the wall was constructed “to prevent Russian aggression”. Poland had in the past accused the Belarusian authorities for using fleeing migrants as human shields and sending them over to Poland.
On the other hand, a Human Rights Watch report in June had said, “ Poland unlawfully, and sometimes violently, summarily, pushes migrants and asylum seekers back to Belarus, where they face serious abuses, including beatings and rape by border guards and other security forces”.
Along with raising human rights concerns among aid workers and charities, the environmentalists and citizens too are worried about the impact the wall would have on the environment. “Since the inception of the idea of the wall in the border area, we have been raising concerns about it’s impact on the environment, in the BiaIowieza area, which will be irreversible,” said Anna Alboth, of Minority Rights Group.
The activists are particularly worried about the impact the wall would have on the delicate ecosystems and world heritage site that lies along the border between Poland and Belarus. According to the UN World Heritage Agency UNESCO, the primeval BiaIowieza Forest covers much of the border between Poland and Belraus.
Crown Jewel of Europe
The Białowieża forest is a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by Poland and Belarus and the last lowland old-growth forest in Europe. Described as “the crown jewel of Europe” by researcher Katarzyna Nowak, it is home to the largest population of European bison, and to more than 50 mammalian and 250 bird species, in addition to 16,000 species of fungi and invertebrates.
UNESCO says the forest has “outstanding universal value,” is a world heritage site and offers an “immense range of primary forest including both conifers and broad-leaf trees covering a total area of 141,885 hectares.” Located on the watershed of the Baltic and Black seas and on the border between Poland and Belarus, it is home to the largest population of European bison, the heaviest land animal in Europe.