Polish troops are seen through barbed wire at the border between Poland and Belarus, in the Grodno region of Belarus, on Tuesday. Hundreds of refugees have gathered there, hoping to cross into Poland and the European Union. Photo by Leonid Scheglov/Belta/EPA-EFE
Nov. 10 (UPI) -- A group of migrants from the Middle East and Africa found themselves in a more difficult position on Wednesday -- in the middle of a growing border conflict between Belarus and Poland that's becoming more inhospitable.
The refugees have been at the center of the dispute for days. Now, sitting in freezing temperatures in Belarus near the Polish border, thousands of them are now facing armed Polish troops on one side -- and Belarusian forces on the other, urging them to cross into Poland and the European Union illegally.
In an interview with Polish Radio, defense minister Mariusz Blaszczak said Wednesday that there were numerous attempts to cross the border overnight Tuesday and the night "was not peaceful."
"All those who managed to pass through have been detained," he said.
The situation at the border between Belarus and Poland has been stoked mainly by authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who observers say is trying to apply pressure on the EU and Western Europe over economic sanctions related to multiple issues, including human rights violations in the Soviet breakaway nation.
Poland is a member of the EU; Belarus is not.
Officials said some increasingly desperate migrants tried to cut their way through barbed wire at the border crossing and attempted to climb fencing with the aid of tree branches.
Belarusian foreign minister Vladimir Makei said authorities are working with Russia, a key ally, to respond if the European Union and Western allies bring more sanctions.
"In the conditions of ever-growing sanctions pressure [by the West] that our countries experience, we aim for a consolidated work with our Russian colleagues and mutual support, including the joint reaction to hostile activities with regards to our countries," Makei said, according to Russian state-run TASS news agency.