Hundreds of migrants who were camped in the cold on the Poland/Belarus border have been moved to a nearby warehouse in Belarusian territory, according to reports on Wednesday.
The move comes a day after a melee broke out in the border crisis, with migrants throwing stones at Polish forces massed on their side of the razor-wire fence, injuring 12, and they responded with water cannons and tear gas.
Warsaw accused Belarusian forces of instigating the conflict, while the government in Minsk denounced Poland’s “violent actions”.
The migrants, mostly from the Middle East, have been stuck at the border since November 8. Most are fleeing conflict or despair at home and want to reach Germany or other western European countries.
The West has accused Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko of using the migrants as pawns to destabilise the European Union in retaliation for its sanctions on his authoritarian regime.
Belarus denies orchestrating the crisis, which has seen migrants trying to cross the borders into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia since the summer.
On Wednesday, Poland’s Border Guard tweeted a video showing migrants with bags and backpacks being directed by Belarus forces away from the camp near the Kuznica border crossing, and Polish deputy interior minister Maciej Wasik said he had received information that they were leaving on buses.
The Belarusian state news agency Belta reported that migrants were moved to a heated logistics centre about 500 metres from the border near Bruzgi, giving them the opportunity to rest indoors after many days in tents.
One of them, an Iraqi Kurd named Miran Ali, took video footage inside the warehouse and said that Belarusian authorities had said they would not be forced to return home, causing the migrants to chant in gratitude, “Belarus! Belarus! Belarus!”.
“This is the joy and happiness of Kurdish people after they were told that they will not be sent back to Kurdistan by force, and that they can wait here until Germany or one of the cities in Germany take them there,” Mr Ali said as he filmed the chanting.
“These people are expressing happiness and optimism in this cold and ugly camp.”
They sat on blankets, most still wrapped in heavy jackets and raincoats.
Belta reported that about 1,000 migrants had agreed on Tuesday to move into the heated building to “wait for the situation to resolve”, and it quoted some of them as saying they were not planning to go back to their home countries.
Most of the building’s space had been allocated for the migrants, who were offered food, water, medical aid, mattresses and pillows, the news agency said.
Some migrants opted to stay outside near the border.
Poland’s defence ministry posted video footage showing people and tents in the area, with smoke rising from bonfires.
The next steps in the crisis are unclear. Although arrangements have been made for flights from Minsk to Iraq to repatriate those who want to return, it is not certain how many will want to go.