Belarus border barrier safe for animals says deputy interior minister

Wojtek Jargiło/PAP

Poland's new fence on the border with Belarus will have crossing points for large animals, a deputy interior minister has said.

Construction of the 5.5-metre-high barrier stretching over 186 kilometres on the country's border with Belarus began on Tuesday, primarily to block migrants fleeing the Middle East and Asia.

The chairperson of the Green Party, Urszula Zielinska, told a Thursday press conference that the fence will run through the Bialowieza Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site which is home to more than 12,000 animal species, including 800 European bison.

The forest is one of the largest remnants of the primeval forests that once covered most of lowland Europe.

The Greens have demanded the construction of the border barrier be abandoned as they believe it may destroy the nature reserve and, in consequence, the only natural site in Poland will be removed from the UNESCO list.

But Maciej Wasik, a deputy interior minister, told TV Republika on Friday that dedicated crossings for large animals will be built into the fence and opened by the border guard in consultation with foresters.

He added that the border barrier should not be a problem for the migration of smaller animals.

"The construction of the barrier will actually make animal migration easier, but we are talking about the rules on our side of the border," he said.

Wasik added that at the Belarusians had built a border fence with no crossing points for animals about 800-1,000 meters from the border line.

"Therefore, even if we build crossing points for animals on our side, they will not be able to go too far," he said.

Wasik also added that "not a single tree will be cut down" in the Bialowieza because of the border barrier construction.

"There is already a cut-out border strip going through the forest and there is no way we can cut down anything more," he said.

Since last summer, thousands of migrants, most from the Middle East, have attempted to cross the Polish frontier from Belarus and enter the European Union. Migrants have also attempted to cross from Belarus into Lithuania and the Baltic countries.

Poland has blamed the crisis on the government of Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian president, which it says is bringing the migrants to Belarus and encouraging them to cross the border in order to destabilise the EU in retaliation for Brussels' earlier sanctions on Belarus.

The costs of the border fence's construction are estimated at over PLN 1.2 billion (EUR 260 million). The barrier is to be operational in June.