Afghan refugees: Wedged between Belarus and Poland

As of: 09/10/2021 5:19 p.m.

In the border area between Poland and Belarus, Afghan refugees have been waiting for about a month, unable to go back or forward. In the interview, they describe their situation as dramatic, they speak of hunger and weakness.

By Olaf Bock, ARD-Studio Warsaw, Bamdad Esmaili and Isabel Schayani (WDR)

It’s a never-ending drama. 32 Afghans have been stuck on the Polish border between Belarus and Poland for almost a month and a half. For them there is no further and no going back. The Polish side does not let them in and speaks of illegal migration. For weeks, representatives of aid organizations and the opposition in Poland have been calling for at least the need for protection of these people to be examined. UN representatives recently criticized the fact that this has not happened so far.

As the latest step, the Polish government declared a state of emergency in the border region – with a three-kilometer-wide exclusion zone. Neither helpers nor media representatives have been allowed near the border since then. But there is now also a threat to the health of the people who are stuck between Belarus and Poland.

It’s already very cold at night and people have to sleep outside; it seems that they have reached the end of their tether. To the WDR succeeded in establishing telephone contact with one of the Afghans affected. The man who is supposed to be called Abdul Ali here said in a weak voice that he was with the other refugees – 27 men and five women, according to him. The youngest is 15 years old.

“Belarus gives us so much that we don’t die”

WDR: Where are you exactly and how are you?

Abdul Ali: We have been between the Polish and Belarusian borders for about 32 or 33 days. It is very bad. In the first few days there were people from Poland, I think from the UN, who tried to take us away. But that didn’t work out. They brought us a few things, but that’s not enough for 32 people. You stopped doing that.

Now they don’t talk to us anymore, they don’t answer when we speak to them. Then help from the UN came from the Belarusian side. They gave us some cookies, beef and water. They were very small portions. We divided it up so that it would last for a few days. Now we get a 500 gram package of wheat for 32 people once a day. We cook that with water. The water is far away. We filter that with a handkerchief. Belarus gives us just enough that we don’t die. It’s cold and we’re getting sick and sick. My whole body hurts.

WDR: Have you already been to Polish soil?

Abdul Ali: We were already 10 or 20 kilometers on Polish soil, then they brought us back here. We said we were asking for asylum. There were officials and lawyers and UN officials who brought tents. And we filled out forms. They were near us for a few days. But now a human protective fence has been built around us. Now there are Polish soldiers in front of us and the Belarusians behind us.

We don’t know what’s going to happen, we don’t have any information. We also don’t know what is true and what is not. We have no more hope. We ask Europe: Please help us! We can neither go back nor forward. It doesn’t matter which country would accept us – we couldn’t stay in Afghanistan. You know how the Taliban treat people. Everyone here has a reason their life is in danger. Please let us go to another country. We have no bread, no water. We have nothing. Please make sure the Polish government hears us.

Polish government blames Belarus

The Polish government accuses Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko of deliberately bringing people to the border with the neighboring state. For example, illegal migrants from countries like Iraq or Afghanistan tried to cross the green border into Poland illegally. Despite all the criticism, Poland is relying on toughness and sealing off. With barbed wire, border guards and soldiers.

Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski justified the measure: “We will not allow Poland to become another route for mass smuggling of illegal migrants into the European Union. We will not allow the security of our citizens, especially our citizens who participate in the Border with Belarus is in danger. “

There should be no getting through here: Poland has been sealing the border with Belarus with barbed wire since August.


Two and a half meters high barbed wire fence is being built

The border with Belarus should become impermeable. Therefore, a two and a half meter high barbed wire fence is now being built along the 400 kilometer long border with Belarus. According to their own information, the border protection authorities prevented several thousand illegal border crossings in August alone.

The Polish opposition, which co-organized a protest in front of the Polish parliament, is outraged that not even the Afghans are being helped. Franciszek Sterczewski from the Citizens’ Coalition said it was “a great shame for our state that we are unable to help the 32 Afghans who are illegally imprisoned in this border camp”.

When access to the border was still possible, Sterczewski was in the area for a few days. In his opinion, there were illegal “pushbacks” there, that is, the pushing back of migrants who had already arrived in Poland in the direction of Belarus.

Now such observations would no longer be possible, because there is a state of emergency in the border area. Initially, this means no prospect of help for the stranded Afghans either – although it is urgently needed.

Indications of systematic pushbacks in Poland

Jan Pallokat, ARD Warsaw, 10.9.2021 5:51 p.m.

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