Belarusian-Polish border is now a death zone where refugees including young children are dying of cold, hunger and thirst
Human rights activists are describing the situation with migrants on the border between Belarus and Poland as a humanitarian crisis happening not far from the Czech Republic. The activists say the people who have been stranded must be handled in accordance with international law.
The biggest problem the refugees are struggling with is a lack of water and of medical care, according to activists. The Belarusian authorities have been transporting thousands of refugees to the borders of Lithuania and Poland, but those EU Member States do not want to allow them to enter their territories.
Many children are among the refugees. The authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, in the opinion of the EU countries bordering Belarus, is exploiting these refugees as a reprisal for the sanctions levied on Belarus by the EU over the incident in May when a civilian aircraft was forced to leave EU airspace and land in Minsk because a critic of the regime was on board.
Some of these migrants have been attempting to reach Germany and the West. The Guardian reports that at least eight people have died at the Belarusian-Polish border alone.
Crystal van Leeuwen, a representative of Doctors without Borders, says NGOs should be granted access to the zone on the Polish side. In her view, the immigrants' demands for international protection must be fully respected.
In the region around the Belarusian border, Warsaw has declared a state of emergency since the beginning of September. That means representatives of international organizations, human rights defenders, and the media have no access to the strictly guarded area.
"It's difficult to believe that such a crisis is happening in the EU," van Leeuwen said, according to the Czech news server Seznam Zprávy; together with representatives of the Grupa Granica and the Ocalenie Foundation she has been aiding the migrants. She described encountering a group of the refugees just outside the closed zone.
"It was dark, a thickly forested area, everybody was doing their best to hang on to one another," she said. According to her the migrants have very little with them in the way of clothing or sleeping bags.
Other activists are connected with some of the refugees by mobile phone and are posting about the situation on Facebook. "The children are growing weaker and weaker. They are probably only alive because the air is very damp, and I have advised the adults to give them frosted twigs from the trees, leaves and grasses so the children can lick the dew and hoarfrost. The children bite into the twigs to suck out the sap. By chewing the twigs they are able to at least trick themselves from experiencing hunger," posted Joanna Aisha Iwińska, who is warning that the children are cold because nighttime temperatures are plummeting.
Czech human rights activists are calling for others to join an open letter online demanding that the Government of Poland improve the desperate situation of these families with young children and the other people who have ended up victims of this political gamble with their lives on the border between Belarus and Poland. The letter calls for immediate access to the emergency zone by humanitarian aid workers, doctors, journalists and activists and that the practice of the mass expulsion of families with children and individual migrants from the Belarusian side of the border be ended.
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