Via Belarus through the ‘Polish jungle’ to Germany: ‘It was very dangerous’

On the ground in the asylum seekers centre in Eisenhüttenstadt, Germany, is a coin from Belarus. It has traveled into the pocket of one of the many people from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey who entered the European Union through Belarus and Poland.

In recent weeks, the number of migrants using this route has been growing at lightning speed. Most of them arrive in Eisenhüttenstadt, one hundred kilometres southeast of Berlin. There they scaled up the shelter quickly and say they can handle the increase.

Facebook visa

Its going well now, says 23-year-old Syrian Tammam, and he puts his thumbs up. Over a week ago he left his country because he didnt feel safe there anymore. War, the military… its very dangerous.

On Facebook, he sees that he can get a visa for Belarus. From there, he could cross the border to the EU. And so he leaves for Lebanon, flies to Minsk via Dubai and goes from the Belarusian capital to the border with Poland: a piece of forest where the Polish government declared a state of emergency due to the rapid growth in the number of illegal migrants. Tammam calls it the Polish jungle.

Its dangerous there, he says. Because it freezes at night and his clothes are wet after swimming across a river before crossing. And because the Polish police pick him up, break his phone and SIM card and take him back to Minsk. He finally sleeps five nights in the border forest before he succeeds in reaching undiscovered Poland, and thus the EU.

Smugglers make thousands of euros

But the real purpose of his journey is Germany. There it is safe and there is justice and humanity, Tammam says. To get there, he says he pays a smuggler $2,000 to take him straight through Poland to the German border by car.

This time theres no Polish police stop him. He walks into Germany on a railway line, where the German police pick him up and take him to the shelter in Eisenhüttenstadt for registration. Finally, Tammam says about that moment.

For the CCeit Journaal, correspondent Wouter Zwart went to the shelter; see his report here:

Tammas story is hard to check for factual. However, it is a story as many people tell in the shelter. The Kurdistan family, the older man from Iraq, the group of young people from Yemen, Palestine and Syria: they all say they came through Belarus. They also talk about spending nights wandering in cold forests, without food and water. Most are also talking about sums they paid to smugglers: 3000 euros, 7000 euros.

Unexpectedly rapid increase

Between January and September, only a handful of people illegally crossed the Polish-German border. That number has grown hard since then. More than 1500 people came in last month, now about 120 a day.

That rapid increase came unexpectedly, says Olaf Jansen, the leader of the Eisenhüttenstadt shelter. You cant expect a state to help people smuggling. This makes him refer to Belarus.

After the European Union introduced sanctions against the country due to human rights violations, it became clear that Belarusian President Lukashenko would no longer stop migrants to the EU. According to the EU, he even encourages them, including by making it easier to issue visas. There are stories of people who are being dropped off at the border near Poland.

The

fact is that the shelter in Eisenhüttenstadt is flooding. And that about 90 percent of the people here, like Tammam, have come through Belarus, says Jansen.

Why there are still plenty of shelters in Germany

The shelter can accommodate everyone, says Jansen, because it was learned from the mistakes in 2015 and 2016, when large groups of migrants came to Germany and the shelter couldnt handle it anymore. Thats why a roadmap was developed afterwards.

Weve followed that plan now. And thats why there are not 800 places here, as is normally the case, but already 2000, of which 1300 beds are currently occupied.

We can handle it, says Jansen. He does not consider a situation like 2015.

Meanwhile, the German government has deployed 800 additional agents for checks at the Polish border. Not to send people back to Poland, but to register as many people as possible and pick up people smugglers.

Road out of Eisenhüttenstadt

Tammam doesnt know whats going to happen to him yet, he has to wait and see. His goal is to learn German as soon as possible, find a job and bring his family to Germany. His son is a week old, born when Tammam slept in the forest between Belarus and Poland. When he sees him is unclear.