Sokolka, Poland – On the night of November 12, a Friday, Baravan Huzni Murad transported his sick wife, Avin Irfan Zahir, to a forest road in northeastern Poland and called for help.
Murad, his wife and their five children had been walking in the woods for four days after entering Poland secretly from Belarus, where they had arrived almost three weeks earlier in search of a better life.
As they tried to go further into Poland through the forests, they also tried to hide from the Polish authorities, fearing that they would be sent back to Belarus.
But Zahir fell seriously ill, and the Polish humanitarian coalition Grupa Granica called an ambulance on behalf of Murad after witnessing his plight.
The ambulance was accompanied by a vehicle from the Polish border authorities.
As he and his children were brought into the vehicle to be taken to a nearby facility run by border police, Murad watched his wife being taken to a local hospital.
“At that time my only worry, all my attention, was on my wife,” Murad told Al Jazeera. “All I could think of was if they could help him. Could she get up one day?
Neither Murad nor Zahir knew she was pregnant.
She died three weeks later, on December 3.
Halikari Dhaker, as he was called, gave birth stillborn on November 14.
Murad’s family has paid a higher price than most who have passed through Belarus to Poland since the border crisis began in August.
Western powers on Poland’s side claim Belarus staged the situation – which saw thousands attempting to enter the European Union – in return for sanctions imposed on Minsk following President Alexander’s crackdown Lukashenko against dissent.
Despite incalculable loss, Murad still wants to make a living for his family in Poland.
He said that after years of daily indignities in Iraq, the European country granted him basic human rights for the first time in his life.
Murad left his homeland, the city of Zakho, in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on October 3.
“I sold everything, literally everything I owned in my life, just to save my kids,” Murad said. “Because there is no life and no future [in Kurdistan]. “
Lack of jobs, corruption and extreme water and electricity shortages in the Kurdish region are some of the reasons Murad and others like him left.
Murad says he also had a more personal reason – he claims he was falsely jailed for murder by Kurdish authorities for six months before the real perpetrator was found. He claims he never received an apology.
At the time of publication, officials in the Kurdish region had not responded to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment regarding the accusation.
After reaching Belarus, Murad’s family entered Poland on November 8 through a tunnel that other refugees and migrants had dug under the border fence.
Once in Poland, they walked for days without knowing where they were going. It was then that Zahir fell seriously ill.
According to Arsalan Azzaddin, a Kurdish doctor from northeastern Poland involved in Zahir’s case, there was little chance of a cure.
“From the start there was no hope,” said Azzaddin, who works in a hospital in Bielsk Podlaski, a town a few hundred kilometers from the Belarusian border. “But in medicine, you can’t say that all is lost. So you fight.
Ultimately, Azzaddin said Zahir died from the combined effects of hypothermia and sepsis caused by the loss of her pregnancy, which had failed three weeks before she arrived at the hospital.
“Still, I don’t believe it,” Murad said of Zahir’s loss. “It’s hard to take.”
When he learned of his wife’s death, Murad and his family were staying in a refugee and migrant shelter in Białystok, run by the organization Fundacja Dialog.
Murad’s friend, Aras Palani, a voluntary Kurdish translator working with Grupa Granica, was with him at the time.
“I gave him a hug,” Palani said. “Everyone was crying in the center.
Katarzyna Zdanowicz, spokesperson for Polish border guards in Podlasie province, said Zahir was one of nine people confirmed to have died on Polish soil since the start of the border crisis.
Activists believe the real number is significantly higher. As temperatures have dropped in recent weeks, they say the victims may be lying in the forests, but not yet discovered.
“It is possible that the real number [of the dead] is bigger, ”said Ela, a field volunteer with Grupa Granica. “If grassroots aid did not exist, this number would surely be much, much higher.
Another Iraqi at the shelter, who requested anonymity, said given the dangers of the trip so far, he ultimately regretted his choice to flee.
“They have to close this road,” said the man, who is a member of Iraq’s persecuted Yazidi minority.
“If I had known that the way would be like this, I would not have come.”
Palani, Murad’s friend, said migrants who want to reach Europe are motivated by more than economic factors.
“It’s not about the money,” he said. “[Murad] the feeling that everyone is taking care of him here. It’s a feeling he’s never known.
The kindness Murad and his family received from Grupa Granica, the hospital staff and the local Poles convinced him to try to stay.
“I buried my son here,” Murad said. “I will serve this country until I die.”
Her other children, meanwhile, are struggling to make sense of their loss.
Her young sons often cry or lie alone on the floor for no reason. Murad said he is doing his best to be both a father and a mother to his children.
According to his parents’ wishes, Zahir’s body is expected to be sent back for burial in the Kurdish region next month.
Murad wears one of his rings, in order to keep his memory close. With tears in his eyes, he said that meant “everything” to him.
“Every time I look at this ring,” Murad said, “I will see it.”