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In forests on Poland-Belarus border, migrants fight for survival

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NEAR SOKOLKA, Poland, Oct 14 (Reuters) – Mohammed, a 26-year-old Yemeni migrant, flew to Belarus from Malaysia in August hoping to make it to Poland and on to western Europe.

He spent two weeks in a forest close to the Polish border in October, the place he says he was compelled throughout the border 11 instances by Polish or Belarussian guards, had most of his belongings stolen and was chilly, thirsty and hungry with solely leaves to eat.

During his final encounter with Polish authorities he instructed Reuters that he begged for all of it to finish.

“When we reached the Polish army I requested ‘Please kill me here now. I do not want to go back to Belarus’.”

Mohammed declined to share his final identify for concern of being recognized by Polish authorities.

Four hours after talking with Reuters within the damp, freezing forest on Monday night, he was picked up by a smuggler and brought to Germany, he stated in a textual content message.

A former journey agent, Mohammed is one among hundreds of individuals from the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan, together with youngsters, who’ve tried to enter Poland from Belarus previously few weeks. Charities say they face harrowing situations on the border between the 2 nations.

Asked about Mohammed’s account of his experiences, and about migrant allegations of violence and pushbacks extra typically, Belarussian officers didn’t instantly reply.

When requested about his description of what occurred, a Polish Border Guard spokesperson stated that, basically, employees present medical assist to all of these in want, together with resuscitation or offering entry to paramedics, and that they do settle for purposes for worldwide safety.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has stated Poland is in breach of worldwide regulation in its efforts to push migrants again to Belarus as a substitute of providing them asylum.

Poland says it’s respecting its worldwide obligations whereas attempting to stem the move of migrants who, it says, typically don’t need asylum in Poland however in western Europe.

The European Union’s govt blames Belarus for intentionally orchestrating the move to place stress on the EU in retaliation for sanctions slapped on Minsk over human rights abuses.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko in late September referred to as the state of affairs on the border a “humanitarian disaster”.

The EU has additionally criticised Poland over its therapy of migrants.

Under EU guidelines, migrants ought to in precept apply for asylum within the first nation they enter, however the 27-member bloc is planning wide-reaching reforms to make sure asylum obligations are extra evenly unfold.

The spokesperson for the Polish Border Guard stated it “operates only under the auspices of Polish law.”

An August order from Poland’s Interior Ministry made it simpler to move migrants with out the suitable papers to stay in Poland again to the border.

The Polish parliament can also be debating an replace to guidelines on migration that critics say might enshrine pushbacks on the border into regulation.

Poland’s Interior Ministry and the federal government’s official spokesman didn’t instantly reply to Reuters’ requests for remark on accusations of unlawful pushbacks.

CROSSING BORDER, AGAIN AND AGAIN

Mohammed, his palms trembling as he described his ordeal, stated he witnessed Belarus guards beating a companion so onerous his leg was damaged.

After the group of migrants crossed the border into Poland, carrying Mohammed’s companion, Polish guards refused to take him to a hospital, patching up the wound themselves.

The Polish guards broke the group’s SIM playing cards and dropped them again on the Belarus border, Mohammed stated.

The group then misplaced contact with their wounded companion after Belarus authorities compelled them again into Poland.

The Polish authorities say greater than 15,000 makes an attempt to cross the border have been made since early August, largely by Iraqi, Afghan and Syrian residents. The makes an attempt have gotten extra frequent, rising above 500 a day in current weeks.

“The idea is that if you make it difficult to enter EU territory where they can ask for protection and you throw them out repeatedly, now with the frequent risk of death, that eventually they’ll give up and go back to their country,” stated Piotr Bystrianin, a senior official with the Polish charity Ocalenie Foundation.

The charity has a small wood home within the forest close to to the border the place Bystrianin and his colleagues put together humanitarian support for migrants.

They pile luggage of protein bars, bottles of water, thermoses of soup and sizzling, candy tea, and luggage of heat garments right into a automotive.

The migrants ship them a cell phone ping on a particular quantity to allow them to drive to that location.

The charity makes use of particular pink headlights on its automobiles to keep away from detection by border patrols, which drive round at night time wanting for smugglers’ automobiles or migrants.

DESPERATION

Zainab Ahmad, 25, a Syrian migrant, who was residing in Beirut earlier than coming to Poland by way of Belarus, stated she requested for asylum as quickly as she got here into contact with a border guard in Poland.

“They say OK, we will take you to a village. You will get [asylum] there. But they took us to the Belarussian border,” Ahmad instructed Reuters at an open migrant middle in Bialystok in japanese Poland.

“And when I said, ‘Sir, did you lie to me? Did you trick me to take us here?’, they said ‘no, it’s 22 km. You walk.’ They did that several times.”

Poland’s Border Guard didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark on Zainab’s testimony.

Over a number of days she stated she was pushed backwards and forwards throughout the Polish or Belarus border by guards 4 instances. She had spent virtually every week with no meals or water, working away from wild boars within the forest within the chilly when she had her interval.

The subsequent time she approached the border, she had a plan.

She instructed the guards she was bleeding as a result of she was having a miscarriage and wanted rapid medical assist. Only then did she handle to get right into a Polish hospital after which finally to an open migrant centre, she stated.

“All I wanted to do was get in a car and sit somewhere, not in the mud or woods, just to get some warmth and a roof above my head,” she stated.

Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Kacper Pempel; Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv; Editing by Jane Merriman and Mike Collett-White

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Migrant eats food provided by Ocalenie foundation after he crossed Belarusian-Polish border in the woods near Sokolka, Poland October 11, 2021.  REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Mohamed, 26, migrant from Yemen gestures during an interview with Reuters after he crossed Belarusian-Polish border in the woods near Sokolka, Poland October 11, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

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