Polish forces detain Chechen refugees protesting camp conditions

Polish forces detained Chechen refugees seeking to cross into Germany on their way to protest against conditions at Polish refugee camps where they live.

Polish forces detain Chechen refugees protesting camp conditions

Polish border guards detained Chechen refugees in a train carrying 200 Chechens seeking to cross into Strasbourg on Tuesday on their way to protest against conditions at Polish refugee camps where they live.

The group which included women and children had been aiming to reach the eastern French city of Strasbourg, home of the Council of Europe, the continent's rights watchdog, Poland's border officials said.

The refugees were stopped at the southwest border town of Zgorzelec because they did not have documents allowing them to leave Poland. After negotiating with border guards, the group left the train under police escort and were later driven away in double-decker buses.

"The people were detained for attempting to illegally cross the border," a spokeswoman for the border guards told Reuters. "It's hard to say where they will end up tonight because of the sheer size of the group."

But according to some border guards, the protestors are unhappy with conditions in Poland's refugee hostels and asylum application procedures and therefore sought to take their protest to Strasbourg.

The spokeswoman said the refugees were on their way to Brussels, but media reported they were heading to Strasbourg.

Earlier on Tuesday, Polish railways halted the train in the city of Legnica, where they later briefly blocked railway tracks, because the refugees did not have tickets.

The train was allowed to proceed, but non-Chechen passengers were transported to their destinations on a bus.

Imram Ezhiev, a Chechen human rights worker and head of the Society of Russian Chechen Friendship, who was in touch with some of the refugees on the train, told Reuters in Moscow they wanted to avoid being sent back to Russia.

"We demand that they (refugees) be allowed to stay in Poland and that their living conditions are improved," he said.

In Warsaw, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer defended Poland's treatment of refugees and claimed that Chechen group "has no refugee status".

Poland has been home to groups of Chechen refugees since Russian war on Chechnya in the mid-1990s.

One of the most populous regions in the mainly Muslim north Caucasus, Dagestan borders Chechnya which declared independency after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 but was attacked by Russian forces in two wars since the mid-1990s.

Poles have traditionally been sympathetic to ethnic groups opposed to Moscow's rule.

Ezhiev said among the detained were refugees from Russia's Ingushetia region, who fled recent months.

Amnesty International also said in its 2009 report on Caucasus that so-called the counter-terrorism operation that the Russian authorities declared there gave a green light tohuman right violations by government forces in Chechnya.

Reuters
Last Mod: 16 Aralık 2009, 08:27
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