Migrants trapped on Belarus-Poland border call for help via videos and GPS coordinates
Since August, thousands of migrants have tried to cross the Polish border from Belarus. They came from Yemen, Syria, Iraq or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, hoping to enter the European Union. Poland accused Belarusian head of state Alexander Lukashenko of instrumentalizing migrants in a feud with the EU and chose to expel them. Rejected on both sides, men, women and children find themselves stranded along the border in the middle of the forest.
In this latest issue of The Observers Direct, “Belarus-Poland border: Migrants trapped in the forest” (see above) Maëva Poulet, journalist for AXADLETM Observers, met Gulliver Cragg, correspondent for AXADLETM, in the border region from Podlaskie, Poland the week of October 4. In this diary, she returns to the alerts that have been launched by migrants to NGOs and the press.
“We will probably meet a family with children. Would you like to join us? Saturday October 9. It is 3 p.m. when Piotr Bystrianin sends us this message. Piotr is a member of the Ocalenie Foundation, a Polish NGO helping migrants and refugees based in Warsaw. Since the summer, their team has taken turns every week to travel 200 km from the capital to the border region of Podlasie to monitor the unprecedented migration crisis in Poland and help migrants.
Someone sends us a GPS position near the small village of Stara Łuplanka. It was there that a family from Iraqi Kurdistan was sighted. After a seven-day march from Belarus, they arrived in Poland bypassing the border guards. “We receive alerts on the presence of groups of migrants,” Piotr Bystrianin explains briefly. What we know is that many migrants send their GPS position, to organizations or to the press, to call for help. “
A “hybrid war” between Poland and Belarus The meeting place is at the edge of the forest, near a cornfield. Karolina Szymańska, also a member of the foundation, signals us to wait: “We have to talk to these people first. He is a single father and his four children, ages 8 to 14.
“They are very cold and scared,” Piotr explains, as his colleague offers them food, water and warm clothes.
Over the phone, an Arabic-speaking translator explains the situation to the father. Poland’s strategy is clear: migrants on the Polish side must be turned away at the Belarusian border, even if they are asylum seekers. The Polish parliament authorized border guards to do so on October 14.
Poland believes that these migrants are not in danger in Belarus, where they arrived legally by plane with visas. This is also what makes the European Union say that Minsk is waging a “hybrid war”: in response to European sanctions, Belarus is trying to destabilize the bloc of 27 countries by sending migrants across its borders.
“Sometimes they bring them back to the forest, even if there are children” To prevent this Iraqi family from being “pushed back” or pushed back to Belarus, Piotr and Karolina have only one solution: to help them ask asylum. But the family must agree to apply in Poland, and therefore to stay in the country. However, according to the Polish government, many actually want to travel to Germany, England or France.
To apply for asylum, they must also be able to explain that they are fleeing their country of origin for fear of persecution or conflict. This is not the case for all migrants who cross this border.
This family meets these requirements. “The family will give power of attorney to [Karolina], and she’ll call the border guards to ask them to come. It will help them in their application for international protection in Poland. “
We then wait for two hours for the border guards to arrive. It is up to them to register the request. However, with the new law, they are not required to do so. The NGO called on the media to exert pressure. “Sometimes they bring them back to the forest, even if there are children,” Piotr insists. That evening, thanks to the mobilization of Piotr and Karolina – and perhaps the presence of several cameras, including ours – the family will be taken to the border guard post, where they will spend the night, warm, while waiting. the next step in their application.
“It’s like a game of ping-pong” The family was able to get this kind of help because they had passed the “emergency zone”, a 3 km strip of land traced by Poland along its border with Belarus, where journalists and NGOs are denied access.
Along the border, migrants find themselves trapped between Polish and Belarusian border guards. On the Polish side, they are forcibly brought back to Belarus. In Belarus, they are also being turned away – since October, the country has refused to allow migrants who have already entered an EU country.
“The only way to get out of Poland is to enter Belarus. The only way to get out of Belarus is to enter Poland. It’s like a game of ping-pong,” said Nelson (assumed name). , a migrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo who contacted our team.
Nelson documented the nights he spent between the two countries. He filmed himself in the labyrinth of “no man’s land” in the forest, where temperatures regularly drop to 0 degrees on the night of October.
“We met Polish soldiers and I said to them: ‘I come from the Congo, I would like to apply for asylum’. They told me ‘You’re not going to do anything’. They started forcing us back to It was the first night we were out, me and my kids, ”Nelson said.
One of his videos shows his children sleeping in the forest. They were lying on the ground near an encampment, without a tent. “It was extremely cold and extremely dark,” he said.
At the border #Poland – #Belorussia, no more alerts. Poland has pushed migrants back to Belarus, who send them back, leaving them trapped.
Our reporter @maevaplt received these messages on WhatsApp: “I have to go out, there is nothing to eat, nothing to drink. It’s hell. 3 / pic.twitter.com/U0EDMaIfDg
– The Observers (@Observers) October 25, 2021 “We can’t continue” These images, like those of other migrants calling for help, are rare testimonies of what is happening in the border area. Since September, at least nine people have died from hypothermia or exhaustion in the forest.
Other migrants contacted our team from the area, but some were unable to send images. Some have sent distress messages. “It’s cold, there is nothing to eat, it’s hell,” wrote a Congolese migrant. “We cannot continue,” an Iraqi said in a WhatsApp audio. “Hello madam, I am at the border,” wrote another migrant whose origin is unknown. She didn’t send any more messages after this one.
The only way for them to get help is to share their GPS coordinates with organizations working near the border … from a forest where the internet and telephone network are unstable, and without electricity to charge their phone.