December 22, 2022
Facing an iron wall on one side and inhumane treatment on the other, the refugees find themselves stuck in limbo on the Polish-Belarusian border, clinging to the faint hope that Poland will let them in. below zero, this wait can be dangerous.
A year has passed since Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko orchestrated a migration crisis to destabilize the EU in retaliation for sanctions imposed on his country. Although the numbers are lower now, every week hundreds of migrants still try to cross the border into Poland. A report published by the NGO Grupa Granica revealed that between October 1 and November 30, 1,104 people requested humanitarian assistance at the border.
Unlike refugees from Ukraine – for whom there is an open door policy – very little assistance is offered to arrivals from the Middle East and elsewhere. Poland follows ignore their asylum applications, making them wait for days, often weeks. With nowhere to go, they have no choice but to camp in the woods with no tents or any other protection from snow and rain.
Prolonged exposure to extreme cold puts migrants at risk of hypothermia, as well as foot trauma that can lead to amputations. Dominik Domański, Polish anesthesiologist, said that “those with symptoms of type II hypothermia [which is when hypothermia causes impaired consciousness] must be hospitalized. leaving them without medical assistance It can lead to worsening of their condition and death.” And yet the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights reported that Poland has been carrying out illegal returns without evaluating the medical conditions of the migrants.
Until July 2022, the Polish government maintained a state of emergency and turned the border area into a highly militarized exclusion zone, prohibiting all organizations and individuals from providing support to migrants. On the day the state of emergency ended, the Polish government Announced the completion of a 5.5 meter high wall covering 186 kilometers of the border with Belarus. The main purpose of the barrier is to deter refugees, but at the same time makes it more difficult for humanitarian actors to reach those in need.
Since the state of emergency was lifted, some local groups have returned to the region and provide direct assistance to migrants, offering them food and warm clothing. However, refugees’ access to urgently needed medical care remains limited.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF), for example, decided to withdraw its team from the border after “Polish authorities repeatedly blocked access to the forested border region, where groups of people survive in sub-zero temperatures, in desperate need of medical care”. and humanitarian assistance,” the organization said in a Press release.
The situation is critical because as temperatures continue to drop, the number of people facing health problems is likely to increase. Fortunately, despite the difficulties in reaching refugees stranded at the border, INTERSOS, a non-profit humanitarian aid organization, recently launched a medical assistance project for those trying to cross into Poland from Belarus. INTERSOS rightly noted that the “presence of independent organizations and activist groups providing medical assistance at the border can be a matter of life and death”.
Refugees on the Polish-Belarus border have been caught in the middle of a hybrid war between Belarus and the EU. To prevent people from dying as a result of being used as bargaining chips, more international healthcare organizations should get involved to help refugees there, especially as temperatures will remain low for several months.