Here's what it's like for migrants trapped between Belarus and Poland

Here's what it's like for migrants trapped between Belarus and Poland

2:00pm Nov 16, 2021
A man holding a child wipes his eye as the Kurdish family from Dohuk in Iraq waits for the border guard patrol, near Narewka, Poland, near the Polish-Belarusian border on Nov. 9. The three-generation family of 16 — with seven minors, including the young
A man holding a child wipes his eye as the Kurdish family from Dohuk in Iraq waits for the border guard patrol, near Narewka, Poland, near the Polish-Belarusian border on Nov. 9. The three-generation family of 16 — with seven minors, including the young
Wojtek Radwanski / AFP via Getty Images
  • A man holding a child wipes his eye as the Kurdish family from Dohuk in Iraq waits for the border guard patrol, near Narewka, Poland, near the Polish-Belarusian border on Nov. 9. The three-generation family of 16 — with seven minors, including the young

    A man holding a child wipes his eye as the Kurdish family from Dohuk in Iraq waits for the border guard patrol, near Narewka, Poland, near the Polish-Belarusian border on Nov. 9. The three-generation family of 16 — with seven minors, including the young

    Wojtek Radwanski / AFP via Getty Images

  • Migrants are at the border checkpoint at Bruzgi, Belarus, and Kuznica, Poland, on Wednesday. They are caught in a border crisis between Belarus and its EU neighbors that began to escalate earlier this month.

    Migrants are at the border checkpoint at Bruzgi, Belarus, and Kuznica, Poland, on Wednesday. They are caught in a border crisis between Belarus and its EU neighbors that began to escalate earlier this month.

    Oksana Manchuk / TASS via Getty Images

  • Migrants stand in front of Belarusian servicemen as they gather in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border in Belarus' Grodno region on Sunday. Polish officials said dozens of migrants were detained that day after crossing into Poland from Belarus.

    Migrants stand in front of Belarusian servicemen as they gather in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border in Belarus' Grodno region on Sunday. Polish officials said dozens of migrants were detained that day after crossing into Poland from Belarus.

    Oksana Manchuk / BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

  • Migrants at the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, watch a helicopter overhead on Nov. 8.

    Migrants at the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, watch a helicopter overhead on Nov. 8.

    Leonid Shcheglov / BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

  • A group of migrants are seen near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, on Saturday. Western countries have accused the Belarusian regime, which is backed by Russia, of engineering the crisis in retaliation against EU sanctions, c

    A group of migrants are seen near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, on Saturday. Western countries have accused the Belarusian regime, which is backed by Russia, of engineering the crisis in retaliation against EU sanctions, c

    Leonid Shcheglov / BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

  • Migrants collect their belongings before leaving a camp in Grodno, Belarus, and heading toward the border crossing into Kuznica, Poland, on Monday.

    Migrants collect their belongings before leaving a camp in Grodno, Belarus, and heading toward the border crossing into Kuznica, Poland, on Monday.

    Leonid Shcheglov / BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

  • A picture taken on Nov. 12 shows migrants in a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in Belarus' Grodno region. The presence of troops from both sides has raised fears of a confrontation.

    A picture taken on Nov. 12 shows migrants in a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in Belarus' Grodno region. The presence of troops from both sides has raised fears of a confrontation.

    Leonid Shcheglov / BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

  • A migrant boy reacts in a tent camp on the Belarusian-Polish border. Since the start of 2021, migrants have been heading to the border of Belarus with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

    A migrant boy reacts in a tent camp on the Belarusian-Polish border. Since the start of 2021, migrants have been heading to the border of Belarus with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

    Ramil Nasibulin / BELTA/TASS via Getty Image

  • Migrants have a meal in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region on Saturday.

    Migrants have a meal in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region on Saturday.

    Leonid Shcheglov / BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

  • Mourners place their hands on the grave of Ahmad al-Hasan, 19, during his burial at the Muslim cemetery of the local Tatar community on Monday in Bohoniki, Poland. Hasan, from Homs, Syria, drowned in the Bug River while attempting to cross from Belarus in

    Mourners place their hands on the grave of Ahmad al-Hasan, 19, during his burial at the Muslim cemetery of the local Tatar community on Monday in Bohoniki, Poland. Hasan, from Homs, Syria, drowned in the Bug River while attempting to cross from Belarus in

    Sean Gallup / Getty Images

  • Migrants warm themselves by a fire in a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, on Sunday. Some migrants say they were beaten and frightened with dogs by Belarusian soldiers.

    Migrants warm themselves by a fire in a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, on Sunday. Some migrants say they were beaten and frightened with dogs by Belarusian soldiers.

    Oksana Manchuk / BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

  • A polish police officer checks a bus near the border to Belarus, that was closed because of a large group of migrants camping in the area on the Belarus side who had tried to illegally push their way into Poland and into the European Union, in Kuznica, Po

    A polish police officer checks a bus near the border to Belarus, that was closed because of a large group of migrants camping in the area on the Belarus side who had tried to illegally push their way into Poland and into the European Union, in Kuznica, Po

    Matthias Schrader / AP

  • A Lithuanian soldier patrols a road near the village of Jaskonys, in Lithuania near the border with Belarus, Saturday. EU members Poland and Lithuania say they are struggling to cope with an unusually high number of migrants arriving at their borders with

    A Lithuanian soldier patrols a road near the village of Jaskonys, in Lithuania near the border with Belarus, Saturday. EU members Poland and Lithuania say they are struggling to cope with an unusually high number of migrants arriving at their borders with

    Mindaugas Kulbis / AP

  • Trucks line up at motorway 65 on their way to the Polish-Belarusian border between Bialystok and Bobrowniki, Poland, Sunday.

    Trucks line up at motorway 65 on their way to the Polish-Belarusian border between Bialystok and Bobrowniki, Poland, Sunday.

    Matthias Schrader / AP

  • A migrant receives medical attention in a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, on Nov. 12.

    A migrant receives medical attention in a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, on Nov. 12.

    Leonid Shcheglov / BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

  • A migrant sits in front of a fire in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, Sunday.

    A migrant sits in front of a fire in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, Sunday.

    Oksana Manchuk / BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

  • Migrants gather to receive humanitarian aid in a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, on Nov. 12. Hundreds of desperate migrants are trapped in freezing temperatures on the border.

    Migrants gather to receive humanitarian aid in a camp on the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region, in Belarus, on Nov. 12. Hundreds of desperate migrants are trapped in freezing temperatures on the border.

    Ramil Nasibulin / BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

  • Migrants gather on the Belarusian-Polish border near the crossing at Kuznica, Poland, on Monday.

    Migrants gather on the Belarusian-Polish border near the crossing at Kuznica, Poland, on Monday.

    Oksana Manchuk / BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

For months, the government of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has accelerated the number of visas it grants migrants seeking refuge from war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and beyond.

But the visas aren't being issued with the intention of letting the migrants stay in Belarus. Officials in European Union countries say Lukashenko is doing this as a ploy to send large numbers of migrants to Poland and other EU members that border Belarus in retaliation for the bloc's economic sanctions.

The EU has hit the Lukashenko regime with several rounds of sanctions since last year, accusing him of stealing his country's 2020 election as well as ordering violent crackdowns on his opponents and other rights abuses of citizens.

After securing what are typically seven-day visas and paying agencies from $3,000 to $6,000 for passage they are told will take them to the European Union, migrants have boarded flights to the Belarusian capital of Minsk, where they're escorted to the Belarusian border with Poland. Once there, Belarusian soldiers have helped migrants climb over the razor-wire fence that marks the border.

In response to thousands of migrants traveling this route, Poland has declared a state of emergency and has sent more than 20,000 security personnel to its border with Belarus.

Thousands of migrants are living in tent villages on the Belarusian border with Poland. They're trapped between Belarusian soldiers encouraging them to enter Poland and Polish soldiers pushing them back to Belarus.

Poland's Defense Ministry said Tuesday that migrants stranded on the Belarusian side of the border threw stones at Polish soldiers, who responded with tear gas and water canons. Migrants have reported physical abuse from security forces on both sides of the border.

United Nations agencies have called on authorities to respect the rights of migrants and refugees under international human rights and refugee laws.

Several migrants have died from sleeping in the freezing conditions of the forests and wetlands that make up the border region, and several humanitarian groups have tried to provide water, food and legal advice to them.

Now, the EU is preparing its fifth round of sanctions on officials in the Lukashenko regime as well as the airlines that have provided travel to migrants.

In response to the threat, several carriers, including Turkish Airlines, have refused to provide travel for Iraqis, Syrians and Yemenis on its flights to Belarus.

International correspondent Rob Schmitz reported from Poland and Germany; photo editor Marco Storel edited the images.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
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