The border of Belarus is still the fate of migrants – a 28-year-old woman froze to death in Europe’s oldest forest

The border of Belarus is still the fate of migrants

Peoples migrate further and further and often in increasingly difficult conditions.

Poland has accepted 1.5 million refugees from Ukraine. People fleeing the war have also come to other EU countries.

The difficult situation on the border with Belarus, which is maintained with the approval of the Belarusian government, has been overshadowed by the Russian attack.

Conditions on the border tightened in 2021, when Belarus began to push thousands of people from Africa, Asia and the Middle East across the border to Poland and Lithuania in an apparently organized manner.

At the border, a cruel game of cat and mouse began, where the border guards of the countries crammed people aspiring to Europe from one side of the border to the other. Aspirants to Europe could cross the border several times in either direction.

A couple of years later, the emergency and the crowding of people at the border continue.

Belarus no longer issues tourist visas, and scheduled flights to Minsk from, for example, Damascus or Istanbul are reportedly no longer organized, but people still try to cross the border. According to The Economist magazine (you will switch to another service)once invented, a smuggling route rarely closes.

Exhausted entrepreneurs are coloring under foil covers. The ridges and forests have been cleared for bonfires. Some people run out of energy.

Project Manager of the Polish Ocalenie Foundation Anna Chmielewska works with his teams in the Bialystok region.

Chmielewska confirms to in a phone interview that people are still dying at the border.

– Recently, at least two people have drowned in the Svislach border river, and at least 37 people have drowned near the border on the Polish side during the entire crisis.

– The real numbers may be higher, because, for example, Belarus does not provide official data, explains Chmielewska, who has been helping migrants since the beginning of the crisis as a volunteer.

Border crossers wander in the forests for weeks at a time. In the middle of February, in the oldest forest in Europe, in the Bialowieza National Park, a 28-year-old Ethiopian woman was found frozen to death.

The Polish human rights commissioner is investigating what happened, writes a follower of migration Infomigrants website (you are moving to another service).

The volunteers of the Grupa Granica aid organization first found the rucksack and overcoat, then the badly decomposed remains of the deceased.

Enhanced supervision is driving more and more daring companies

The Polish authorities have built barbed wire barriers and a protective wall in the border zone. Camera surveillance has also been increased during the beginning of the year. The Polish government lifted the state of emergency from the border area last July.

The route across the national park of Sanka and the sparsely populated border area is merciless, especially in winter conditions.

– It is more difficult to build obstacles in the river, so at the risk of frostbite and drowning, we also try to cross Svislach, explains Anna Chmielewska.

New travelers from Russia and Belarus

Russia’s attack on Ukraine also has an impact on migrant routes.

In addition to the citizens of the Middle East and African countries who came from far away, people from Belarus and Russia also seek to join the EU as the atmosphere tightens.

– They are forced to leave, but they cannot or do not want to return to their home countries. That’s why they want to join the EU.

An artist who fled the instability and violence of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Muthuke Ara says that he was subjected to violence in both Belarus and Lithuania, where he crossed the border on foot.

In Belarus, he was beaten in a racist attack and, according to his account, his left eye was damaged. Ara was in Belarus with the status of a student. He sold his cartoons to support himself when he couldn’t work.

– When we arrived in Lithuania, the police arrested us. We were abused and treated like animals, locked up like in a cage. We were mentally abused.

– We didn’t get to health care, and not much to anything else, he recalls his steps.

According to Ara, proper toilets were missing, there was no hygiene. Now building a life in France, Muthuke Ara’s expectations and image of the European Union were different.

– Lithuania is not Belarus, it is the EU. I thought we were going to get proper treatment now. I thought that in Lithuania they are treated well, as well as, say, in France.

It was the other way around. According to Ara, Lithuania was worse than hell.

– I was put in prison and kept there for about five to six days. Compared to that, Belarus is normal.

Muthuke Ara is still outraged by his treatment.

– We were abused in an EU country where everyone knows the laws, everyone knows human rights and respects them. In our case, it was the opposite.

The harsh situation in Lithuania is also familiar to Polish aid organizations. When the resources of a small country are stretched to the limit, neighboring countries try to cooperate.

The heart beats for Ukrainians, people from Belarus are often treated as strangers

The Poles have welcomed a huge influx of refugees from neighboring Ukraine. On the other hand, the strays on the border of Belarus continue to be strange. They may still be perceived as an unknown threat.

– When the situation on the Belarusian border started to escalate a couple of years ago, everyone was surprised, both the border authorities and the citizens. Now we have gotten used to the situation, but the Poles’ thinking is still divided, reflects Anna Chmielewska from the Ocelanie Foundation.

He thanks the residents of the border area, who are ready to help, even though there is mostly no common language or resources.

– When a hungry, deathly tired and frozen fellow wanders into the forest behind your home, few people close their eyes.

Chielewska hopes that the asylum procedure would be simplified and speeded up. In his opinion, everyone should be treated equally.

“Maybe my daughter will see a peaceful border”

met Anna Chmielewska in Bialystok in 2021. At the time, she had left her four-year-old daughter in the care of relatives to work occasionally at the border. At that time, he estimated that the situation would be resolved in months.

It was the other way around. The pandemic and the war in Ukraine are shaking the world. Emotions range from rage and helplessness to apathy and frustration.

– Now you have to be happy about every small step forward, every person who has received help.

The daughter has grown up to be a preschooler.

– Maybe he sees a peaceful border and a different Poland and the world. I’m not doing this for myself, but also for him, says Anna Chmielewska.