A humanitarian crisis lurks on the borders of Belarus and Poland

A humanitarian crisis lurks on the borders of Belarus and Poland
Tomb of Levin Njengwe from Cameroon in Poland

NOS News

  • Christian Bowie

    Central and Eastern European Correspondent

  • Christian Bowie

    Central and Eastern European Correspondent

In a small church near Poland’s border with Belarus, a man with a lyre sings to a small group. Behind him is a chest. Nearby, the family of the deceased is listening.

But the sad woman here is not Polish. Levine Njengui, 44 years old, from Cameroon. She drowned in a river a few miles away while trying to cross the border. Her parents, brother and sister were all granted visas to see her off in Poland.

humanitarian crisis

In the woods here, according to activists, at least forty people died during the crossing. Another 300 people are missing. Sometimes human remains are not found until months later.

While all eyes are on the Mediterranean, the humanitarian crisis on the border with Belarus also lingers. Now that spring has arrived, the number of migrants trying to cross is rapidly increasing again.

“You cannot remain indifferent,” says Dariush Zuba. He came from Bialystok to attend Njingwe’s funeral and recited two poems. Szuba attended immigrant funerals on several occasions. “What is happening here at the border is appalling and inhuman.”

Hundreds of kilometers of Polish border fence

Two years ago, Belarus began airlifting refugees and forcing them across the borders of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to harass the European Union. Images of barbed wire and unrest between police and desperate migrants have spread around the world.

Poland has erected hundreds of kilometers of fence along the border. The army is deployed to guard the roads. The arrested persons are being sent back to Belarus. That was more than 130 on Tuesday, according to Polish border guard figures.

Charter flights for Belarusian President Lukashenko seem to have stopped flying, but the route remains popular. Migrants believe it is safer than the Mediterranean and travel to Russia and then travel overland to the border.

Migrants are being helped at the border between Belarus and Poland by volunteers. CEE Correspondent Christian Bowie joined the tour.

Migrants are played as toys on the border between Poland and Belarus: ‘We are being beaten’

Once in the border area, they are caught between the Belarusian border guards who force them even more violently towards the fence and the Polish authorities on the other side. A month ago, a Syrian died after falling from a fence.

“Belarusian soldiers show the migrants where to cross and force them to cross the border,” said Aleksandra Khrzhanovska of Grupa Granica, an organization that helps migrants. “They get a kick for going over the fence and they’re told, ‘You either cross or you die in the woods.'” This violent behavior was also confirmed by immigrants with whom NOS spoke.

Why Njingwe decided to make the dangerous journey is not clear. The family does not want to speak to reporters. Szuba thinks it is a good thing that relatives in Poland have obtained visas to be there. This is not usually the case with other funerals. “But the fact that her family is now in Poland for that matter is also ironic.”

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