On the frozen frontiers of Europe with the migrants caught in a lethal game

1 year ago 119

On the outskirts of the Białowieża wood – which bestrides the borderline betwixt south-east Poland and Belarus – a radical of 7 Iraqi Kurds marque their weary mode towards the Polish hamlet of Grodzisk.

The latest miles of their travel person been from Belarus – crossing backmost and distant twice, deported aft their archetypal and 2nd attempts. Now a 3rd time: done sub-zero temperatures, crossed the primeval forest’s marshy terrain. Among them are 2 children: an eight-month-old miss and a two-year-old boy. When we came upon them, they were acrophobic to get up disconnected the crushed and begged america not to telephone the police, whispering: “They’ll termination us.”

The babe was still, though not asleep. They looked similar waxen figures, their faces blank, though 1 woman’s look was covered successful bruises.

This is 1 radical among the thousands of migrants trapped successful a perilous purgatorial terrain betwixt Belarus and Poland, arsenic gateway to the European Union, wherever they question refuge and asylum. That gross has slammed shut, claiming 8 known migrant lives truthful far. Poland’s rightwing authorities has secured parliamentary authorization to physique a Donald Trump-style partition the magnitude of its frontier with Belarus, and meantime patrols the territory with a unit of immoderate 17,000 borderline constabulary reinforced by subject personnel.

The Polish authorities argues that it is simply a deliberate argumentation by Belarus to undermine the EU’s southbound eastbound borderline by encouraging refugees to determination in. The authorities has besides established a two-mile militarised portion adjacent to the frontier, from which aesculapian services, unpaid assistance workers and reporters are banned. Crystal van Leeuwen, a aesculapian exigency manager with Médecins Sans Frontières, told the Guardian past week that NGOs indispensable urgently summation entree to the unafraid portion for migrants’ claims and planetary extortion to beryllium respected.

The migrants are portion not lone of the exodus successful formation from warfare and different tribulation wherever they began their journeys – crossed the Middle East and Africa – but besides pawns successful a crippled betwixt Belarus and Poland. Many are lured by Belarusian question bureaux, controlled by the authoritarian authorities of Alexander Lukashenko, which, arsenic middlemen, organise trips from the Middle East to Minsk, promising transition to the EU.


The Iraqi Kurdish radical is from Duhok, adjacent the Turkish border. It is the country of aggravated caller intra-Kurdish fighting, and Turkish strikes against the Kurdish PKK organisation. The parent of the children, 28-year-old Amila Abedelkader, said that the radical was lured to Belarus by a question bureau that would put question by level from Istanbul to Minsk, and entree to the Polish border.

Migrants are charged €15,000-€20,000 erstwhile they scope Belarus. Airport photos amusement their accomplishment wearing shorts and T-shirts, intelligibly unaware of the temperatures awaiting them. They are past installed successful authorities hotels managed by the regime, from which officially assigned buses and adjacent taxis transportation them to the Polish oregon Lithuanian border.

Belarusian borderline guards past shove them past the fence. “Some migrants we saw had their faces sliced with barbed wire,” says unpaid assistance idiosyncratic Katarzyna Wappa. “We person amateur films showing however the Belarusians thrust the migrants forward. The borderline guards basal determination with snarling onslaught dogs successful afloat conflict gear.”

Abdelkader says her radical had made their archetypal crossing into Poland successful aboriginal October, but were forced backmost by guards. Trapped betwixt borders, they were fixed thing to portion oregon eat. “The Polish guards caught america and pushed america back. They said: ‘Go backmost to Belarus.’ And the Belarusian worker said: ‘No, nary spell backmost to Poland.’ When the h2o was each finished, my member asked Polish soldiers for immoderate h2o to drink. Every time we asked astir water. They say: ‘No, no.’” The guards refused to proviso beverage for the baby. The migrants drank rainwater oregon from puddles.

This was their 3rd attempt. Whether they person since been palmy is unclear.

Zaynab Ahmad, 25, from Syria astatine  the unfastened  migrant centre adjacent   Bialystok, Poland.
Zaynab Ahmad, 25, from Syria astatine the unfastened migrant centre adjacent Bialystok, Poland. Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

But each greeting we person quality connected WhatsApp from radical held successful the borderline guards’ cells. Bulletins specified as: “Yesterday a household and their sick lad staying with america were taken by the constabulary backmost to the border.” And: “We are truthful frightened of going to the borderline due to the fact that my babe is excessively small. Please assistance us.”

Back location successful the nearest municipality of Hajnówka, Wappa says: “We are creating a network, trying to bash what we can, but it’s excessively overmuch to bear. People are dying successful the wood and the Polish authorities offers nary assistance isolated from bringing successful much troops, rounding them up, and deporting them backmost to nary man’s land. And if we scope those people, what tin we springiness them? A flask of tea, immoderate lukewarm clothes, past permission them successful the acheronian and cold?”

In the wood past week, volunteers recovered Mustafa, a 46-year-old antheral from Morocco, taken successful by a unpaid named Mila. Speaking Spanish, Mustafa told us: “As I made my mode done the forest, I saw a antheral lying connected the ground. I don’t cognize if helium was live oregon dead. I walked 2 nights until I could spell nary further. I was walking astatine night, trying to slumber during the day. I was successful a vacuum.

“Belarusian soldiers bushed people,” helium continued. “They bushed maine successful Belarus. There are gangs that basal down the service and onslaught us. They bushed you, instrumentality your money, and divided it 50-50, portion for the gangs, portion for soldiers. This borderline is similar a stream of death. What are you to do? Where to go, I bash not know.” Mustafa’s destiny remains successful the balance.

Once connected the Polish side, migrants are tracked down by borderline guards, police, army, and territorial defence forces; successful the Hajnówka region, practically each 2nd car connected the roadworthy belongs to instrumentality enforcement officers. Others person darkened windows – either protecting oregon smuggling the migrants.

“We’re successful a parcelled-off, isolated world,” adds Kamil Syller, initiator of the Green Light project, which aims to enactment greenish lights successful windows to signify homes wherever refugees tin find help, discreetly, and not beryllium handed implicit to the police.

At the Mantiuk Hospital successful Hajnówka, a lad from Somalia tells however helium watched his 2 brothers frost to death. “It’s intolerable to accidental wherever it happened,” helium says.

“Apparently he’s losing interaction with reality,” accidental the doctors. “He often asks: ‘But wherever americium I?’” The refugees who scope the infirmary person nonrecreational aesculapian care, yet the infirmary is patrolled by borderline guards, and arsenic soon arsenic someone’s wellness is restored, guards instrumentality them backmost to the borderline and permission them successful the forest.

Medics connected the Border, a radical of doctors with an ambulance, operates successful the “open” areas, but are not allowed successful the off-limits zone. Asked however they tin beryllium of help, they say: “We request passes to the zone,” says Jakub Sieczko, a paramedic. “But this is impossible.”

“We person nary entree to the off-limits zone,” says a Polish Red Cross workerfrom the borderline area. “We can’t manus implicit assistance packages ourselves.”

Syller says that the refugees are freezing, succumbing to hypothermia and shaking from fearfulness and cold. “The children are having reactions akin to epileptic attacks. The suffering and panic present tin lone punctual you of wartime,” helium explains.

Wappa feels that she is “witnessing scenes similar retired of a war, but astatine slightest successful a warfare things are clear. “This is worse, due to the fact that present fractional the nine denies what’s going on. They deliberation it’s each a large sham, that determination are authorities down it. People accidental of the refugees: ‘Why did they adjacent permission location and wherefore instrumentality their children?’”

This onshore is steeped successful acheronian past of formation and deportation. And determination are fewer reminders truthful cogent arsenic successful the colony of Narewka, wherever a enactment of houses from earlier the 2nd satellite warfare is adorned with enlarged photographs of the Jewish residents who lived present until the Holocaust.

The pictures amusement radical posing successful their finest clothes: an aged couple, an Orthodox family, a miss successful a polka-dot formal with bows successful her hair, a blase woman wearing a cap.

Now, past those houses successful memoriam for Jews deported from here, subject and constabulary vehicles pass, carrying migrants for deportation.