‘These are all lies’; migrants stranded at Polish border feel cheated by smugglers

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Marysia Zlonkiewicz, volunteer of The Grupa Granica (The Border Group) poses for a photo in Grodek, Poland on November 25, 2021. Photo taken on November 25, 2021. REUTERS / Lukasz Glowala reuters_tickers

This content was published on November 28, 2021 – 09:05

By Yara Abi Nader and Joanna Plucinska

ORLA / BIALYSTOK, Poland (Reuters) – Smugglers told Syrian friends Anas Kanaan, 34, and Mouein al-Hadi, 36, that they could easily get to Germany from Belarus. They only had to pay 3,000 euros ($ 3,390) each to an intermediary in Turkey.

But the safe crossings from Belarus to Poland indicated by the smugglers have been closed. Then, after more than a week of camping in icy forests on the border, a smuggler led them in broad daylight to a Polish village where they were easily spotted by police, arrested and sent back to Belarus.

“It’s like our money has just evaporated,” al-Hadi told Reuters in a field near the Polish town of Orla after successfully crossing the border again but now unable to walk because his feet were swollen from the cold.

Her childhood companion, Kanaan, added, “These are all lies. They all lead you down roads where you can die. And at the end of the day, they tell you ‘we are not responsible for you. Die, whatever. “They just want your money.”

Shortly after, the two Syrians – who said they wanted to seek asylum in Poland, not to move west to Germany – were again arrested by Polish border guards who said they would be taken away. in a detention center.

“More and more people are realizing that they have been drawn into a trap and that what they have been promised is a lie,” said Marysia Zlonkiewicz, an activist with the Polish charity With Bread and Salt.

MORE DIFFICULT TO CROSS

The Belarusian border crisis, involving thousands of migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, all hoping to enter the European Union, has dragged on for months.

Poland and the EU accuse President Alexander Lukashenko of encouraging migrants to travel to Belarus and cross the border illegally in revenge for sanctions imposed in Minsk for human rights violations. Belarus denies the accusation and says the EU is responsible for the humanitarian crisis at the border.

Migrants now face a much more difficult challenge to enter the EU.

Under pressure from the EU, airlines have restricted flights from the Middle East to Belarus, while many travel agencies in the region have stopped selling airline tickets to the former Soviet republic.

Poland has deployed more than 20,000 border guards, soldiers and police to a cordoned off border area, while Belarusian authorities have returned large numbers of migrants to Minsk with the apparent aim of letting them return to their countries of origin.

Polish border guards say illegal border crossing attempts have fallen to around 200 attempts per day, down from around 500.

Around 314 smugglers have been detained in Poland since August, according to police data. They come from countries like Germany, Sweden, Ukraine and Georgia.

As crossings became more difficult, smugglers increased their prices to as much as $ 7,000, migrants told Reuters.

‘NO RETURN’

“Every day things change at the border. Every day there is a (new) obstacle, there are more guards, more people,” Syrian migrant Khaled Zein Al Deen, 45, told Reuters. in an open center for migrants. Polish town of Bialystok.

He and his five relatives lost 18,000 euros to smugglers who promised to take them to a safe apartment, with a car in front of them to make sure there were no police checks. It also proved a lie, and they got caught.

A Polish army spokesperson said the increased security made migrants more desperate, many using force to cross, especially further south, with the help of Belarusians who gave them tools to break through the border fence.

Despite the drop in temperatures and the increased risks of being caught, migrants are unlikely to give up trying to pass each other, activist Zlonkiewicz told Reuters.

“When it comes to development, education or job search, a lot of these people have nothing to turn to, they have no choice,” she said.

“Families have gone into debt or sold their apartments and houses. There is no turning back.”

($ 1 = 0.8846 euros)

(Additional reporting by Fedja Grulovic, Stephan Schepers, Lukasz Glowala, Charlotte Bruneau; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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