Human rights a worthless currency in Polish-Belarusian limbo
The greatest danger on the Polish-Belarusian border is not the estimated 4,000 people camping in the forest, but the creeping threat of hunger, thirst, exposure and death.
Without tents, with plunging temperatures and only limited food and water, stranded people in Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Afghanistan hoped that Belarus was their back door to a better life in Europe. Instead, they find themselves trapped in a hellish geopolitical confrontation between Minsk and Warsaw, in front of Moscow and Brussels.
These people’s days are random moments of rest and rumors, their icy nights are moments of sleep snatched between unexplained gunshots and low-flying Polish military helicopters. Flying even higher, out of sight, two nuclear-ready Russian bombers would watch everything for the Kremlin.
Last September, as a net of border crossings turned into flooding, Polish MPs in Warsaw declared a state of emergency in areas along its 400 km border with Belarus. What was flagged as a security necessity made it impossible and illegal for journalists and aid workers to enter militarized border areas.
The few aid teams that have been allowed in and out again say the situation is grim and getting worse. They are prohibited from distributing food or other supplies, which means those camping are dependent on donations from locals.
Kyle McNally has just returned from Belarus to Berlin as a Humanitarian Affairs Advisor for the aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières. He is still haunted by the Syrian family he met in the forest, still there, says 21 after being violently pushed back to Belarus by Polish border guards. Such actions are a violation of international law but, in the chaos on the eastern wall of Europe, human rights are a worthless currency.
“The family described being beaten with rifle butts, kicked in the ribs, electrocuted in the neck,” he said. “They showed me injuries, told me that they had taken or destroyed their property, cell phones too, which meant that they could not contact their families.”
With razor wire and around 20,000 Polish soldiers holding them back, some say at least 10 have died here since September; others say the figure is much higher now that nighttime temperatures are below zero.
Social media posts
Social media is filled with short videos and voicemail messages begging for help. A man says he and his family from Damascus were trapped for six days in no man’s land on the eastern wall of Europe.
“We are dying here,” said the man who calls himself Ibrahim. “I see children dying in front of my eyes and there is nothing I can do to help them.
Humanitarian organizations have condemned Belarus for having, in their eyes, instrumentalised desperate people to have leverage with the European Union. But they also lambasted European leaders for presenting the crisis as a “hybrid war” which, they say, dehumanizes the people and minimizes their suffering.
On Thursday, the United Nations refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration joined forces to reiterate their offer of emergency humanitarian aid – and even to help Belarus assist and remove people from the areas. borders.
“In view of the alarming situation at the border,” they said in a statement, “both sides must respect their obligations under international law and ensure the safety, dignity and protection of the rights of those stranded at the border. frontier”.
The United Nations children’s fund, Unicef, called for special attention to minors. Special Coordinator Afshan Khan said: “A child is a child, whatever the circumstances. “