Iraqi migrant dies near Belarus border, death toll up to 5

International News

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — An Iraqi migrant died near Poland’s border with Belarus and another was hospitalized with COVID-19, Polish border guards said Friday.

The death raises to five the number of fatalities among migrants who are trying to cross into European Union member states Poland and Lithuania from Belarus through an area of thick woods and bogs.

The Iraqi migrant died despite efforts to revive him. Polish officials have attributed the earlier deaths to hypothermia and exhaustion.

Border guards posted on their twitter account that one of a group of Iraqi migrants who were apprehended some 500 meters inside Poland from its border with Belarus died of a probable heart attack.

The other migrant was taken to hospital after testing positive to a COVID-19 test.

Human rights organizations are concerned with the plight of the migrants – mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan – who are trying to reach the EU.

Two United Nations agencies have requested access to asylum-seekers stranded at Belarus’ border with Poland and Lithuania. EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, and other officials are planning a visit soon to assess the situation at the border.

A spokesman for the European Commission, Adalbert Jahnz, said on Friday it was “essential for Poland to carry out border management duties effectively,” but also urged the authorities to “ensure that the people at the border are given the necessary care and assistance.”

Poland’s government insists its main task is to guard the frontier against the migrant influx and accuses Belarus’ Moscow-backed government of organizing it.

Warsaw has so far disregarded EU suggestions that the bloc’s border and coast guard agency, Frontex, assist with guarding the border.

Jahnz said it’s the Commission’s view that deploying Frontex at the border “would be a very good idea” but that it’s up to Poland to request that.

Poland’s government spokesman Piotr Mueller has said that using Frontex would not change the situation and that Poland’s forces are doing the job well.

The Polish and Lithuanian governments have introduced states of emergency on 1 kilometer (0.6 mile)-wide strips along their border with Belarus that deny entry to anyone except border guards, the military and security services. They also are building razor wire fences along their border with Belarus.

Poland and Lithuania have been receiving an unusual number of Middle East and African migrants and refugees arriving from Belarus in recent months. The migrant influx began after Western countries introduced sanctions on Lukashenko’s government over the country’s disputed August 2020 presidential election and a crackdown on the opposition.

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Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed.

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