On the East Poland border বাবা the father wandered around in the rain-soaked Polish forest, hugged his sick daughter, was just confused with no food or water as the temperature dropped to freezing. He was wet, trembling, and faced a horrible choice.
Her daughter, 2, suffers from cerebral palsy and epilepsy. She wrapped him in a thin blanket to protect him from the cold and he needed emergency treatment. The father, an Iraqi Kurd who gave his name as Karwan, led his family across the border from Belarus but was now in a forest patrolled by Polish soldiers and border guards.
The father’s choice was ruthless: seeking medical help meant returning to Belarus and ending his family’s desperate journey to Europe.
“I can call an ambulance for you, but the border guards will bring it,” said Peter Bistrianin, a Polish worker who came to help, who said they wanted to seek asylum in Poland. After searching in the dark for hours, he found them, alerted about their location via a locator pin sent to the cellphone.
Karwan’s family stumbled upon a geopolitical battle between Belarus and Poland that turned into a man-made humanitarian catastrophe for Europe. According to Polish officials, at least five people who entered Poland illegally have died in recent weeks, some hypothermia and fatigue and about three drowned in Polish wetlands.
“Many more will die as the weather worsens,” he said. Bistrianin said. “Our government treats these people worse than criminals, who are taken to prison, as if they were not human beings, just garbage. What is the plan – to kill people? ”
There is strong evidence that Belarusian President Alexander G. Immigrants – some fleeing poverty in Africa and elsewhere and others fleeing war in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq – have been allowed to enter Belarus, and then encouraged to enter EU member Poland, hoping to spread across the region.
Poland’s right-wing government, determined to keep refugees and economic migrants at bay, has flooded the eastern border area with security agents, while it has turned a blind eye by declaring everyone except residents an emergency boycott zone.
Opinion polls indicate that most polls support the government’s approach. But the government – apparently concerned about the backlash against the policy – began last week to demonize immigrants as terrorists, pedophiles and animal rapists as sex offenders.
The effort was partially thwarted, with dissent even from some officials and the Catholic Church, a powerful force in Poland that rarely criticizes the government.
The head of the Polish church, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, said in an interview that it was “harmful” for the government to suggest that “every refugee is a terrorist or a sex offender”, adding: “We cannot accept that people die in front of our eyes.”
In a detailed report, Amnesty International last week documented how Polish border guards held 32 Afghan asylum seekers in “terrible conditions for weeks” and then deported them across the border to Belarus in violation of international law. In a separate report, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights said that “Poland is carrying out massive illegal encroachments on the Belarusian border.”
Some officials are going back against government policy. Poland’s deputy commissioner for human rights has called the treatment of asylum seekers a “scandal” that shows “the darkest possible picture in Poland”.
The official line of the government is that it is on the eastern border of the European Union. Defending against Lukashenko’s “hybrid attack” against whom Poland has been accused of sending migrants across the border to sow chaos.
Poland’s border guards say more than 11,000 people tried to enter Belarus illegally in August and September, up from about 120 last year.
This increase began this summer when the European Union imposed sanctions on Belarus for forcing a passenger jet dissatisfied with Belarus. Mr. Lukashenko’s government initially took the migrants to Lithuania, but Lithuania moved them south to the Polish border after building a fence.
Both Lithuania and Poland have strengthened their borders, erected razor wire coils and strengthened existing barriers, borrowing the anti-immigrant approach introduced by Hungary in 2015 at the height of Europe’s immigration crisis.
The European Union, a repeat of that crisis and a populist, hates to see another show of support for anti-immigration politicians, mostly supporting efforts to keep Poland and Lithuania out of people trying to enter from Belarus.
“The aggression of the Lukashenko regime deserves a strong and united response from the EU,” said Ilva Johansson, the union’s immigration commissioner, after a meeting with Polish Interior Minister Marius Kaminski on Thursday.
Mr Kaminski was outraged at the liberals and disappointed some supporters of the ruling party when he held a briefing last week claiming he had taken a picture from the cell phone of a detained immigrant where a man was mingling with an animal.
TVP, a state television station that acts as a bullhorn for the ruling party, headlined its report at the briefing: “She raped a cow and wanted to enter Poland? Details about immigrants at the border. ”
But the image is fixed from a Zofilia pornography movie available on the internet, and a horse, not a cow.
Poland has sheltered hundreds of asylum seekers from Afghanistan since the Taliban came to power in August, but hostility to migrants hiding on the border is an integral feature of Poland’s ruling law and judiciary. In 2015, before the election, which brought it to power, its leader said they carried “all kinds of parasites and protozoa.”
Still, many in Poland think Mr. Kaminsky’s performance has exceeded the limits.
Marek Nazarko, mayor of Michaelway, a town near the Belarusian border, said in an interview last week, “If anyone else does what they do, they will be in prison for showing pictures that incite racial hatred.”
He also condemned Mr Pol Kaminiski’s description of eastern Polish cities surrounded by violent sex offenders from Belarus as “inferior”. “These people are not criminals and have not disturbed my city in any way. They are peaceful, desperate people who just want to live a better life, ”said the mayor, a former police officer.
Last week in his hometown, 20 detained foreigners, including eight children, were shouted at by security officials in the Black Balaclavas and taken on a bus, which took them to the Belarusian border. Everyone was then deported from Poland.
The episode persuaded Mr. Nazarko to convene an emergency session of the Town Council and to decorate his chamber with a symbolic coil of barbed wire.
Invited to attend, the acting head of the city’s border post, Piotr Dedarko, expressed dissatisfaction with his order from Warsaw. “I have no intention of taking these people to the border and throwing them away,” he said. “These are really difficult situations.”
The council unanimously turned the city’s fire station into a “help point” for food and temporary shelter for migrants who evacuated it from the exclusion zone. But to avoid breaking the law, the mayor agreed that the Border Services would be warned to seek help.
“In Poland today we are living in a situation where it is a crime to help people,” he said.
Mateus Odzinski, a resident of the small border village of Lapis, said the government had violated human decency by freezing people “like pieces of rubbish.”
And the peace of his village has been destroyed by the barking of surveillance helicopters and guard dogs. “It’s basically like a battlefield now.”
Mr. Bystrianin, the worker who found the caravan’s family near the forest, spends his nights searching for desperate people, traveling around the country roads and tracks in a car loaded with donated food, water, blankets and dry clothes.
Standing at a clearing on Saturday morning, Mr. Bistrianin, head of the private charity Fandakza Ocaleni, waited patiently for the bereaved family to make their decision.
Concerned that his sick daughter and others on the team might not survive, Caravan decided that it would be best to seek medical help. Two ambulances arrived and as he was warned, so did the border guards.
Four members of the family were taken to hospital, and six others were forcibly returned to Belarus at the border. Mr. Bystrianin and colleague Dorota Nook, for providing food and clothing in the area, were fined for entering a restricted area.
Monica Pranakzuk contributed to the reporting from Brussels and Anatole Magdizier from Warsaw.