A crew from RT France, both EU citizens, have been detained by Polish police as they covered the ongoing refugee crisis on the border with Belarus. The last thing one of them reported was that they were being placed in handcuffs.
French nationals David Khalifa, a reporter, and cameraman Jordi Demory were taken into custody after a single live broadcast from the scene, RT France said on Monday morning. They reported that the Polish police showed an “unfriendly” attitude towards them.
“On several occasions they asked us to leave and not to film,” Khalifa said of the Polish troops.
Khalifa sent a message simply reading “handcuffs” before contact with himself and Demory was lost.
Poland has banned journalists from working near its frontier with Belarus since September, leading to an effective media blackout as thousands of migrants remain stranded in freezing temperatures. As a result, most reportage has come from the Belarusian side.
The RT team were streaming from Usnarz Gorny, a small border village in northeastern Poland, before they were detained.
RT France said its journalists were being taken to a police station in Sokolka, a city about 47km northwest of that point.
The standoff on the shared border between Poland and Belarus began earlier this year after Minsk declared it was no longer prepared to prevent would-be asylum seekers reaching its frontier with European Union members.
However, Warsaw claims that Belarus has deliberately laid on flights from troubled nations like Iraq and Iran and is shuttling them to the border as a form of “hybrid warfare.” Poland also insists that Belarusian security forces are helping groups of migrants to make the crossing, and refusing to allow them to turn back, if Polish guards discover them and refuse entry.
Since the beginning of 2021, more than 23,000 people have tried to cross the border. As a result, the right-wing government in Warsaw has declared a state of emergency and boosted its troop presence in the area, as well as approving the construction of a fortified wall. However, the UN’s refugee rights watchdog has said the country is not doing enough to offer safety to those fleeing war and unrest, with several people understood to have died while sleeping rough.
Some EU officials have claimed that Russia is involved in the conflict and called on Moscow to put pressure on Belarus. Moscow has distanced itself from the row, saying it had nothing to do with it, and that Brussels should deal directly with Minsk.