It has been restless at the border between Poland and Belarus for a while, and the situation is deteriorating. Thousands of migrants are trying to reach Poland, and thus the European Union. The living conditions at the border are terrible. Many migrants cant go way. Anyone who knows how to cross the border often suffers injuries, and is physically bad at it. They end up in hospitals in the border area.
It is empty in the emergency department of the hospital in Bielsk Podlaski in eastern Poland. The border with Belarus is 45 kilometres away. Arsalan Azzaddin has just started his 48-hour service. Forty years ago, he came to Poland from Iraqi Kurdistan to realize his dream: studying medicine. Now he treats former compatriots who see their dream, a life in Europe, go up in smoke.
“The crisis has been going on for months,” he says, pointing to the border. “Throughout my career as a doctor, Ive never seen such a humanitarian crisis.”
An estimated 2000 migrants are still stuck in a makeshift camp on the border with Belarus. For a week now, the men, women and children have been trying to keep themselves warm with campfires at night. It seems that their stay there is going to take longer. Yesterday, Belarusian soldiers started cutting trees to be able to set up tents. Generators were also brought to the border for heating. The temperatures are going down further, next week it will freeze again. It is impossible to determine for yourself how big the camp is. Only the CNN channel has been given access to the area from the Belarusian authorities.
On the Polish side of the border, near Kuznica, 15,000 soldiers are set up to prevent the migrants from entering Poland. The government is trying to discourage the people who have come to the border from Minsk from all their power. Not only with military show of power, but also with text messages. “Poland does not allow migrants to Germany. We protect our borders” or “The Polish border is closed, the Belarusian government has cheated on you, go back to Minsk!” For example, those messages ring.
But the Belarusian government also sends messages to the migrants, according to a Polish news site. “Hold on, in 2015, migrants waited months at the border before coming in!” It is also advised not to hesitate to show children to the media because they “reinforce the image”.
CNN reporter Matthew Chance did get access to the Belarusian part of the area where thousands of migrants are stuck. See excerpts from his report here:
Despite the heavily armed border, migrants are able to illegally cross the border to Poland. How many there are is impossible to tell. Some of them are picked up by people smugglers and brought to Germany. Some people take multiple attempts. German authorities have already registered 9000 migrants who have used the Belarus route.
Others are less fortunate. It is these people who end up in the emergency department of Arsalan Azzaddin. He dealt with a few dozen. “When they come in here, they are doing badly. You can imagine how theyre ready to do it. All of them have wandered through the woods. Often one or two weeks. Without food, no drinking, without shoes sometimes. They have broken legs, cuts, hypocooled.” His patients tell him about what they were going through. Both the Belarusian and Polish border guards used violence. They were pushed back and forth, from Belarus to Poland and back again.
When his patients are back on their feet, Azzaddin is obliged to call the Polish Border Guard. He must inform them that the migrants can leave the hospital. Then they are picked up. Its unclear what happens to them next.
“Its terribly painful,” says Azzaddin. “Because my patients only ask one thing, that they will not be sent back to Belarus. But that does happen, of course.” The doctor cries, but recounts. “They dont resist if they have to leave the hospital. They continue to hope that they can stay in Poland, travel further to Germany, into the European Union.”
He himself has established his hopes on Belarusian politicians. “They have to take those people out of there at the border and bring them to safety. The European Union does not want these migrants. There are women and children who need shelter there. I cant endure any more deaths at the border.” His hope will prove vain, he also realizes that. Then he apologizes. “I need to help patients.”