Three people were found dead on the Polish side of the border after suffering from hypothermia, Polish authorities said. A fourth person was found dead in Belarus, one meter from the border, Belarusian state agency Belta reported.
A growing number of migrants have been illegally crossing Poland’s border from Belarus in recent weeks. In August alone, 3,000 people — many from Afghanistan and Iraq — attempted to enter Poland illegally, according to the Polish interior ministry.
In a press conference Monday, Poland’s Minister of Internal Affairs and Administration Mariusz Kamiński said one of the victims found Sunday was an Iraqi citizen who died near the Lithuanian border in Frącki, Poland.
Kamiński said the Iraqi citizen and the two other victims found in Poland were forced to the Polish border by Belarusian border guards, before Polish border authorities told them their crossing was illegal and there was no way through.
The leaders said that they would take in any refugees crossing the border but would call for “possible new restrictive measures by the EU to prevent any further illegal immigration.”
But Poland has received sharp criticism over its treatment of migrants. The country has begun to build a barbed wire fence to curb illegal migration and Polish President Andrzej Duda in early September declared a 30-day state of emergency in a stretch of its border with Belarus.
Lukashenko himself publicly threatened to flood the EU with “migrants and drugs” in May.
The UN Migration Agency said in a statement earlier this month that it was deeply concerned by the “dire conditions” faced by migrants at the EU-Belarus border, where a group of around 30 migrants had been stuck for several weeks with limited access to drinking water and food, medical assistance, sanitation and shelter.
In a press conference earlier this month, Kamiński described the group of migrants stuck at the border as “the tip of the iceberg,” adding “our security is at risk, and we act in proportion to the scale and degree of the threat.”
“Lukashenko wants to threaten us. We will not allow Poland to be another route of mass transfer of illegal immigrants to the EU. We will not allow the security of our citizens to be compromised. These activities are aimed at ensuring security on the Polish border, its integrity and the safety of citizens who live at the border,” Kamiński said.
Fintech Zoom’s Stephanie Halasz and Nick Paton Walsh contributed to this report.