Polish-Belarusian border: “We pleaded with both sides”

Status: 10/18/2021 11:33 a.m.

Poland wants to build a fence along the border with Belarus. 31 migrants are stuck in the border area – for two months. They fear that they will no longer get out of this zone alive.

By Isabel Schayani, Bamdad Esmaili and Olaf Bock

For seven weeks, 26 men and five women have been stuck in the border area between Belarus and Poland. Aid organizations neither have access to them, nor are journalists allowed to report from there, because Poland has declared the entire border strip to be an exceptional area. “We pleaded with both sides to help us, otherwise we would die,” said one of the men, an Afghan, in a phone call.

The number of unauthorized border crossings at this external EU border has increased in recent weeks. Last weekend there were 700 people within 24 hours. The Polish parliament has now approved the government’s plan to build a border fence along the entire border with Belarus.

“You can do that, that’s your country,” says one of the detained people from Afghanistan. “But that they hold us here behind this fence is against the law and against humanity. They haven’t given us anything to eat or drink for two months.” The Belarusian border guard does not let the people behind and the Polish one does not allow them into the country, although they say they were already allowed to submit asylum applications there.

“Three are sitting outside, two are sleeping”

Everyone’s health is poor, the man named Masoud reports on the phone: “When we call for help, nobody hears us. The weather is very cold. We don’t know what to do.” He has an audible cold and is battered.

A two to three meter high fence has been built around them, he reports. The trapped people would have a total of seven tents, each with space for two people. “But they are not suitable for the winter and not for refugees. We then share one with five people. Three sit outside, two sleep and then we take turns.” Temperatures are falling and the cold is becoming increasingly threatening for people.

Only once were Afghans from Belarus allowed to bring them some warm clothes, reports Masoud. A man managed to escape from the border area back to Belarus. He is now afraid of being deported to Afghanistan.

No relief supplies, just a fence

The situation for the trapped people was already tense weeks ago – since then nothing has improved: “The soldiers from Belarus who guard us give us some of their own bread out of pity: three loaves of bread a day. We share them”, tells Masoud. “You can work out how little that is.” They made a soup from a packet of 500 grams of wheat, which the thirty-first would give them.

Because of the tense situation on the border with Belarus, the Polish government now wants to put up a “solid barrier”. The first chamber of parliament has already approved the plan, for which 366 million euros are estimated. Soldiers have already built a 2.50 meter high fence over a length of around 90 kilometers, which is to be extended and later replaced by a fortification system with a surveillance system – the Polish opposition calls it a “wall”.

Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak wrote on Twitter at the weekend: “If it weren’t for the fence and the good cooperation between soldiers and border guards, then we would have a migration crisis like in 2015.”

“Take us anywhere”

The EU will not co-finance the construction of the fence, said a Commission spokesman. Apparently, however, the steadily deteriorating situation has also become known in Brussels. The Afghan man, the voice from the fenced area in the border area, remains polite. He says they don’t understand the dispute between the two countries, Poland and Belarus. “We ask them to solve their problems politically. We fled the war. It is not our fault.”

When asked what is important to him to say, he hesitantly replies: “Maybe someone hears our voice. An aid organization. It doesn’t matter. We may die from the cold, not from hunger. Bring us anywhere. The main thing is that we stay at Life.”

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