UN refugee agency concerned by Polish law allowing pushbacks

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The United Nations refugee agency on Friday expressed deep concern about legislation Poland adopted this week allowing the arbitrary rejection of migrants’ asylum applications.

The new legislation, approved by parliament on Thursday, came in response to the presence of hundreds of migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa on Poland’s border with Belarus. European Union member Poland accuses its neighbor of encouraging the migrants to cross the border, in response to sanctions the EU imposed on the Belarusian regime.

In practice, Polish border guards have for weeks been pushing back migrants illegally entering from Belarus.

Christine Goyer, the UNHCR representative in Poland, said in a statement that the new law “undermines the fundamental right to seek asylum set out in international and EU law.”

Goyer said that restricting the access to territory and asylum procedures for asylum-seekers “contravenes the 1951 Refugee Convention, which clearly states that asylum-seekers should not be penalized for irregular border crossing.”

She added that the practices “will only compound the hardship of people forced to flee.”

The new law must be approved by President Andrzej Duda.

Poland says the Belarusian government is encouraging the migrant arrivals by offering free tourist visas and easy flights to Belarus, as part of a “hybrid war” against the EU.

Polish border guards say there are hundreds of illegal attempts now per day to enter Poland, with 682 recorded on Thursday.

Conditions on the border are becoming increasingly dangerous for migrants as temperatures drop.

On Thursday Polish police reported the latest fatality among those trying to cross the border, a 24-year-old Syrian man whose body was found in a field. Other migrants found dead there in previous weeks were found to have succumbed to exhaustion.

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