A digital investigation by Amnesty International found Poland has carried out an unlawful pushback of 35 Afghan refugees stuck on the border since mid-August

Poland has carried out an unlawful pushback against a group of Afghan refugees on its border with Belarus in late August, a digital investigation from Amnesty International has found.

The human rights group analysed satellite images as well as photos and videos relating to the incident and dating back to August 18. It established that the refugees’ position shifted overnight from Poland to Belarus, in what it says appears to be an unlawful forced return.

The group of 32 Afghans has been stranded on the border between Poland and Belarus since then, without adequate food or access to clean water and shelter. It includes four women, 27 men and a 15-year-old girl.

Amnesty says its reconstruction shows how most of the group was on the Polish side of the border on August 18, where they had set up a makeshift camp surrounded by Polish border guards after crossing from Belarus. A day later, however, they were back on the Belarusian side.

"Forcing people back who are trying to claim asylum without an individual assessment of their protection needs is against European and international law," said Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty International's European institutions office.

On August 20, Poland introduced rules to allow asylum seekers intercepted at the border to be returned to Belarus. It later declared a state of emergency on the border, severely restricting access to the area to journalists and NGOs. Five people have been reported to have died since.

“The dire situation facing the Afghans on the border is one that the Polish government has created,” Geddie said in a statement.

“The situation at the country’s borders does not constitute a public emergency by European and international definitions,” she added.

The state of emergency was expected to be extended on Thursday for an additional 60 days. Poland's President Andrzej Duda said earlier this week it was necessary due to a surge in the number of people trying to enter Poland.

Neighbouring Lithuania and Latvia have also reported increased activity on their borders as the EU accuses Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of using migrants and refugees in a form of “hybrid warfare”, in retaliation for sanctions the bloc imposed on Minsk after last year’s contested election and the subsequent crackdown on protests.

Human rights NGOs have accused the Polish government of regularly pushing back asylum seekers, as well as failing to provide medical support and adequate food and shelter. In a letter addressed to the EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, the NGO Ocalenie said the Polish authorities have been “rounding up asylum seekers on the Polish territory, illegally transporting them back to the border and forcing them to cross the border back to Belarus.”

The letter was written ahead of a meeting between the Commissioner and Polish interior minister Mariusz Kamiński, which a spokesperson for the EU Commission confirmed to TRT World was due to take place later on Thursday.

The Polish interior ministry had not responded to TRT’s request for comment at the time of publication.

Source: TRT World