A Polish soldier has crossed the border into Belarus and is seeking asylum, insisting that he is opposed to his government’s response to the migration crisis, local media and officials in Minsk reported on Friday.
The Belarusian Border Committee announced on Friday that Emil Czeczko, a member of Poland’s 16th Pomeranian Mechanized Division, had defected and crossed over the night before. Czeczko had apparently been one of the thousands of troops stationed on the frontier to stop refugees living in camps in the region from entering Poland. Belarusian officials said he fled the country because of disagreement with his government’s “policy regarding the migration crisis and the practice of inhuman treatment of refugees.”
On Friday, Czeczko (pictured – source Instagram) appeared in an interview on Belarusian state TV channel ATN, where he said that during his time on the border, he saw two Polish volunteers get shot and killed after coming to the region to assist refugees. However, there have been no reports of missing humanitarian workers, and he did not provide evidence to substantiate his claims.
Belarus has previously accused Poland of mistreating the tens of thousands of migrants, mostly Middle Eastern, who are seeking asylum in the country. Polish authorities, meanwhile, have cited reports of violence on the Belarusian side, and have accused Minsk of purposefully sparking the crisis, in retaliation for economic sanctions, by bringing desperate people into the country and funneling them to the border. Alexander Lukashenko, the long-time leader of Belarus, has said that it’s possible people in his government have assisted migrants in attempts to storm the border, but insisted that this wasn’t worth looking into.
Reporting on Czeczko’s defection, Polish media argued that his story, including the two purported deaths, is part of the narrative that Lukashenko has put forth throughout the crisis. Tadeusz Giczan, a journalist from banned Belarusian news site NEXTA and lobbyist at the NATO-funded CEPA, also accused officials of using Czeczko for propaganda purposes.
The 16th Mechanized Division issued a statement Friday morning confirming that a soldier was missing and stating that a search was underway. Later in the day, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak tweeted that the missing soldier had serious problems and had previously requested to leave the army, writing, “he should never have been assigned for service at the border” and promising an investigation.
In November, an American citizen named Evan Neumann told RT he had decided to seek asylum in Belarus because he was wanted in the US for involvement in storming the Capitol building in Washington on January 6. Neumann said he had crossed into Belarus on foot from Ukraine, where he had previously fled, because he was afraid of possible extradition by American authorities.