Poland and Belarus crisis volunteers: ‘Border police can be very aggressive’ | Poland

TThe call arrived at about 1.30 pm. A group of 15 people, all Iraqi Kurds, were found in the Naruka forests after they managed to cross the border from Belarus in Poland. One woman can barely walk. Others had early signs of hypothermia.

The young volunteer who answered the phone – one of about 40 members of the Grupa Granica, a Polish network of NGOs that monitors the situation at the border – knew he had to act quickly.

If the Polish police arrive before the doctors, they are more likely to send the migrants back to them Belarus, with the risk that their health will deteriorate and become fatal.

At least eight people have been killed since the beginning of humanitarian and political work Crisis with Belarus, who is accused of deliberately provoking a new refugee crisis in Europe by regulating the movement of people from the Middle East to Minsk and promising them safe passage to the European Union in retaliation for the sanctions imposed by Brussels on its authoritarian regime. Poland, which has deployed nearly 20,000 border police, is in turn accused of violently pushing thousands of people across the border.

We have about eight teams working near the border and about 40 people in total. When we get a call from families, we send the request to our teams and we’ll check with the person closest to the location, said Anna Alboth of Minority Rights Group, who is also a member of Grupa Granica. Migrants often ask for food, water, a doctor, or shoes. I met a family from Syria who didn’t have any shoes.”

After the phone call, there was only time to put on some warm clothes and prepare hot tea to serve to the migrants.

An ambulance in the border area
An ambulance in the border area Photo: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

“Working here in the border region is difficult on many levels,” said Anna Shmielowska, coordinator of the Assistance Center for Foreigners, based in Warsaw. “First of all, we cannot enter the safe zone [a two-mile deep militarised zone created by the Polish government] Which means we can’t help the people out there. Only locals can help in the area. We can only reach people when they are able to cross the area and meet us outside – some of whom are unable to pass through the area. Winter is coming and people are not ready to stay day after day outside in the cold. We fear that bad weather will cause more deaths.”

The team managed to find the group in The forest near Naruka in front of the Polish border police. They had crossed the border from Belarus the day before. It started getting dark and the temperature dropped to almost zero degrees Celsius. Once at the site, the team provided blankets and hot tea for the families.

“The border police can be very aggressive,” Chmilewska said. We don’t do anything illegal but they make us feel like we are. Helping people should be very natural. But in this case, it becomes a covert activity. I just feel in these times, here, in this part of the border, that what is legal is very far from what is moral.”

At about 4 pm, the police arrived in the woods. Minutes earlier, volunteers had explained to the group how to apply for asylum.

Asylum lawyers then made clear to the police their obligation to allow people to apply for international protection, noting that any opposition could constitute a violation of various international laws. There was one last hug between the asylum seekers and the volunteers before the officers took the group away to a border patrol station.

Then the phone rang again.

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