• There were 6070 pushbacks at the Poland-Belarus border between July 2023 and January 2024.
  • Finland has prolonged its border closure with Russia for another two months.
  • Estonia has warned that it may partially close its border with Russia.

Poland has for the first time published data on thousands of pushbacks at the Belarus border. According to Notes from Poland, the data reveals that 6070 pushbacks took place between July 2023 and January 2024. Before July 2023, pushbacks were recorded under the general category of ‘prevented border crossings’. Even though pushbacks are considered ‘legal’ under national law, the policy has been widely criticised by human rights organisations, both in Poland and internationally, for violating European and international human rights conventions. “When we want to restore the rule of law and [take] actions towards various discriminated groups, we cannot overlook the pushbacks of refugees introduced by PiS,” said Daria Gosek-Popiolek MEP. “We do not understand why the government is failing to take adequate action in the face of conduct that the courts have described as illegal,” she added. ECRE member organisation the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights submitted comments to the European Court of Human Rights on the human rights violated by the pushbacks and noted that “the Border Guard violates the provisions of the ECHR by not examining the individual situation of a foreigner, preventing him from presenting arguments against return and thus exposing him to the risk of loss of life/health or the risk of being subjected to violence/torture upon return to Belarus, which is a violation of Article 3 ECHR”.

Meanwhile, in a press conference held on 8 February, Finland’s interior minister, Mari Rantanen, announced that the Finland-Russia border would remain closed until April. “We have seen no signs that Russia is changing its behavior. On the contrary, the information we have received confirms our assessment that Russia is continuing its hybrid operation,” she said, adding “We have reason to believe that this situation will continue for some time”. According to Rantanen, there are “hundreds, if not thousands, of migrants” who are currently staying close to the border on the Russian side and waiting for the chance to cross into Finland. In January, the Finnish government decided to keep the checkpoints closed until 11 February. ECRE member organisation the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre commented: “There is no pushback procedure, but different illegal practices that states try to prevent from applying for asylum. In practice, therefore, international law and people’s right to seek refuge are being violated.” The Finnish Refugee Council underlined the illegality of pushbacks as a measure to prevent asylum seekers from seeking protection saying, “The use of pushbacks violates the right to seek asylum and increases the risk of violating the absolute ban on refoulement and the ban on mass deportation. At worst, they can lead to the deaths of people seeking asylum, as was seen on the border between Poland and Belarus in 2021.”

Elsewhere, Estonia is anticipating following Finland’s lead and partially closing its borders with Russia. According to a statement issued by the Estonian Police and Border Guard Board, “Due to migration pressure from Russia, Estonia may be forced to close border crossing points. You can no longer return to Estonia via a closed border crossing point. The statement also implies that the possible action is based on national security and public order considerations. “At the end of 2023, Russia has deliberately directed to the Estonian border groups of foreigners lacking the legal right to enter the European Union. If these activities continue, we will be forced to close border crossing points in order to protect national security and public order, as has already been done in Finland due to migration pressure,” it added.

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