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Brussels to Poland: protect human lives, allow EU guards to Belarus border

·2-min read

By Gabriela Baczynska and Joanna Plucinska

BRUSSELS/WARSAW (Reuters) - The EU executive expressed concern on Friday over the plight of migrants stuck on the Polish-Belarusian border and urged Warsaw to protect human lives and allow the bloc's joint frontier force Frontex to provide assistance in the area.

Three migrants died on the Polish side of the border and onemore just inside Belarus earlier this week while trying to crossinto Poland. The causes of death have not been given. A fifthdeath - of an Iraqi man just inside Poland, probably from aheart attack - was reported on Friday.

Poland and the EU have accused Belarus of encouragingmigrants from Iraq, Afghanistan and African countries to cross the border in order to put pressure on the bloc over sanctions Brussels has imposed on Minsk for human rights abuses.

"We recognise that the Polish authorities are dealing with adifficult situation. The situation has been created by anattempt to instrumentalise people for political purposes," aspokesman for the European Commission told a news conference.

But Poland must carry out its border management dutieswithout endangering human life or denying people necessary care,he said, adding: "The situation is very concerning."

"It would be a good idea for our shared border to beprotected using our shared resources, namely those provided bythe agency (Frontex)," the spokesman said.

STATE OF EMERGENCY

Poland, which has one of the biggest border forces in theEU, has not requested Frontex assistance, though the agency ishelping in nearby Lithuania and Latvia, which also share aborder with Belarus.

Warsaw has introduced a state of emergency along its borderwith Belarus, meaning no journalists, politicians or rightsactivists are allowed into the area.

The Commission said the EU's top migration official, YlvaJohansson, wanted to discuss with Warsaw on Friday financial andother assistance the bloc can provide, including a Frontexdeployment and a visit by EU experts to the border zone.

Poland's Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said Johansson was not in touch. The ministry did not respond to a Reutersrequest for comment.

The Polish and Lithuanian interior ministries agreed separately on Friday to push for EU financing for a border fence between their countries and Belarus.

Poland's handling of the border situation has further strained relations with the EU over migration.

The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has resisted EUpressure to take in some of the mostly Muslim migrants trying toenter Europe, seeing them as a threat to national security andto Poland's Christian culture and identity.

The Commission and rights groups fear that Poland is forcingmigrants at the border back into Belarus, violating their right to seek asylum and putting them at greater risk.

U.N. human rights chief Michele Bachelet called on Belarus'neighbours on Friday to protect asylum seekers following thedeaths on the Polish border.

(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold and Andrius Sytas, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by GarethJones)

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