Refugee Foundation will support Polish organizations that provide assistance to migrants who are stuck at the eastern border with Belarus. It concerns both financial and psychological support to local aid workers. In the Netherlands, a donation action will be launched.
The support goes to two umbrella organizations that operate outside the so-called no-go zone, and to residents in the closed border area who are trying to provide assistance. According to the Refugee Foundation, they are well organized, but are under great pressure from the Polish authorities.
Director Tineke Ceelen has “the utmost respect” for Polish aid workers. “They are young, brave volunteers who are trying to help people in high need,” she said in the CCeit Radio 1 Journal. They risk being prosecuted and punished for this, because emergency workers are officially not allowed to enter the area. At the moment, no international aid organizations are active in the border region.
Poland has declared a state of emergency in the border region with Belarus. As a result, in addition to aid organizations, journalists are not welcome in the area. The exact extent of the suffering and the amount of migrants in the area is therefore unclear, says Ceelen.
Cold winter months
It is clear that the terrible situation of the migrants who are stuck is not over, says Ceelen. Today, the first snow of the season falls, in the coming winter months it can reach -15 degrees at night. This puts the migrants who are bivouacing in the woods in life.
Groups of migrants line up for food in the cold:
Local aid organizations estimate that at least ten people have died in recent months. “Polish local residents I spoke to fear that there are more deaths in the forest, because the forests are dangerous,” said Ceelen. The primeval forest is known as an impenetrable area where one quickly gets lost.
The foundation also wants everyone to be able to apply for asylum, as laid down in international treaties. According to Ceelen, there are also migrants in the forests who want to return to their country of origin, “but they can‘t go back to Minsk because Belarusian soldiers stop them and push them towards Poland.” She speaks of “ping-pong pushbacks,” because both countries send migrants back to each other’s territories.
The Belarusian dictator Lukashenko is accused of orchestrating the illegal migration flow through Belarus to the European Union, in order to take revenge for Western sanctions brought against his regime. In an interview with the BBC, he implicitly acknowledged that Belarus is helping migrants in their journey to the EU.
In that same interview, Lukashenko admitted that captured Belarusian protesters are being assaulted in prison. But to other questions about human rights violations, he responded with concern:
The Belarusian Interior Ministry reports that 118 migrants have returned to their country of origin today. More flights would depart later today. Last week, hundreds of Iraqis returned to their homeland. The Belarusian authorities have housed a group of migrants in a warehouse near the border. According to news agency DPA, around 2000 people are now staying there.
Refugee Foundation emphasizes that the border crisis is far from over. It is estimated that thousands of migrants remain in the border region of Poland and Belarus.