AP PHOTOS: Stranded migrants, cold on the border between Belarus and Poland
BRUZGI, Belarus (AP) – On a sunny but freezing morning in a forested area of Belarus on the border with Poland, hundreds of migrants stand in line for hot food and water.
They have been stuck here for over a month hoping to enter the European Union. Despite several unsuccessful attempts to storm the border amid the freezing temperatures, many still hope they will be allowed entry.
“I don’t want to stay in Iraq because life there is difficult, even our life is dangerous. Our life there is not safe, as you can see from ISIS and everything, ”Iraqi migrant Ahmad Rebaz, 27, told The Associated Press, referring to the group. Islamic State. He said his wife recently gave birth to their second child in the nearby Belarusian town of Grodno.
Since November 8, a large group of migrants, mainly Iraqi Kurds, has been stranded in Belarus at a border post with Poland. Most migrants flee conflict or desperation in their country and aim to reach Germany or other countries in Western Europe.
The EU accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of leading a “hybrid attack” against the bloc. Officials say he is luring thousands of migrants to Belarus by promising them to help them travel to Western Europe to use them as pawns to destabilize the EU-27 in retaliation for sanctions against its authoritarian government. Belarus has denied conceiving of the crisis.
Around 600 migrants, according to the Belarusian Red Cross, were living at the Bruzgi logistics center at the end of December. This is a warehouse where they set up a makeshift camp, placing mattresses and tents in the rows that once housed shipping containers. The Belarusian authorities and the Belarusian Red Cross provided them with food and other necessary supplies.
Poland has taken a firm stand against the illegal entry of migrants, strengthening the border and pushing back those attempting to return to Belarus. The Polish approach has been widely greeted with the approval of other EU countries, which want to stop another wave of migration, but has also been criticized by human rights groups.
Belarusian authorities have also criticized Poland and other European countries for the mistreatment of migrants, while highlighting their own efforts to return them to their countries of origin and to create decent living conditions for those who remain at the Bruzgi border post.
But as temperatures drop below freezing, life on the border becomes increasingly difficult. In the heated warehouse, it is still so cold that people inside keep their outer clothes on.
Migrants “need immediate help as the weather gets colder and colder,” said Zanyar Dlshad, an 18-year-old Iraqi living at the logistics center who hopes to travel to Europe to find his brother and study at a university .
“It’s so cold and I don’t believe people can keep up with that,” he said.
While most migrants say they want to travel to Germany, some say they are ready to settle in any country to avoid having to return to Iraq.
“If Belarus, Russia, Poland, Lithuania or any other country gives us citizenship, I will accept. For me there is no difference. But (I will never return) to Iraq, ”said Farhad Mahamad, a 34-year-old migrant from Iraqi Kurdistan.
Several hundred Iraqi migrants have already left Belarus on evacuation flights organized by the Iraqi government, and more are beginning to agree to return home with the help of the United Nations International Organization for Migration.
Last Wednesday, around ten people from the Bruzgi logistics center filed documents with IOM representatives there to organize their return to Iraq.
Mohamed Refaat, IOM’s senior operations coordinator, told the PA that they would be taken to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, by bus before continuing their journey to their home country.
Meanwhile, the site of the dramatic clashes between Polish border guards and migrants at the Kuznica-Bruzgi border post is empty of the crowds that gathered here last month.
However, some migrants say they are not ready to wait any longer at the warehouse and that they are ready to brave the cold temperatures of what they call “the jungle” – the wooded areas on the border – in the hope of finally crossing into Poland.
Daniel Kozin and Dasha Litvinova contributed to this report from Moscow.
Follow AP’s global migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration