The Belarusian armed forces are kicking out refugees and asylum seekers from the Middle East who were trapped in the country after they were promised passage to European Union countries: they have been forced across the border into war-torn Ukraine. war, according to the testimony of people in the Belarusian camps.
On March 5, a group of Belarusian soldiers ordered dozens of refugees trapped for months in a makeshift camp in Bruzgi, a Belarusian town less than a mile from the Polish border, to leave the building at gunpoint and They gave two options: cross the border with Poland, where the guards have already turned them back, or enter the Ukraine, one of them said.
“A group of seven border guard agents that we have never seen before entered the building,” said a man who arrived in Belarus last fall, and whose name and nationality cannot be disclosed for security reasons.
“They were wearing military clothes and for the first time they entered the camp with weapons, they beat us and told us that we had two options: cross over to Poland or go to Ukraine.”
Last fall, the EU accused Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of deliberately provoking a refugee crisis on his eastern border by organizing the movement of people from the Middle East to Minsk and promising the bloc safe passage. The move was seen as retaliation for the sanctions that Brussels imposed on his regime after its crackdown on civil society and political opponents.
In November, the Belarusian authorities escorted thousands of people to the Polish border in an escalation of the crisis. Witnesses told the English newspaper, The Guardian, how Belarusian troops had gathered groups of up to 50 people and cut the barbed wire with shears to allow them to cross. Hundreds managed to evade Polish police by hiding in the woods, but others were captured and violently pushed back to Belarus.
As temperatures dropped, authorities they began moving those unable to cross the border into Poland to a giant bonded warehouse, converted into a dormitory, in Bruzgi.
More than thousands of them have passed almost four months there, sleeping and living among industrial shelves, where people built improvised cots with wooden planks and cardboard boxes. Ten days after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which is backed by Belarus, the order was given to empty the camp. The man explained that on that day, the Belarusian soldiers began to inspect “every inch of the camp,” entering every tent and gathering people to communicate the new directives.
“Everyone was wondering what our future would be,” he said. “We are peaceful people. There are families with children. What do these armed men want from us? At that time, the military group reported that they had received the order to vacate the dormitory. “They made us sit on the ground,” the man explained, “and the officer again asked people if they wanted to go to Poland or Ukraine. Poland or Ukraine. This is the new form of human smuggling for Belarusians.”
Despite the arrival of more than a million displaced Ukrainians in Poland, the Refugee-focused charities in the country have continued to support people who crossed the border between Poland and Belarus. Anna Alboth of the Minority Rights Group, and one of the co-founders of Grupa Granica, a Polish network of NGOs monitoring the situation on the border, said that lately they noticed an increase in asylum seekers crossing from Belarus to Poland, which corroborates the testimonies. of immigrants ordered to leave the camp in Belarus.
“Polish border guards still push them back into Belarus every day,” he said. “Even yesterday, we were in contact with a Syrian family of 10, including some children. Unfortunately, we were unable to help them with food and clothing, because they had already been sent back to Belarus.”
Charitable organizations fear that Asylum seekers are again being used as weapons, opening a new crisis on Poland’s north-eastern border that risks causing unprecedented political and logistical chaos in a country struggling to cope with the mass migration of Ukrainians They flee from war. “What if the Belarusians this time push them not to Lithuania or Poland, but to… Ukraine?” Albot said.
“Belarusians do not care about the lives of these people, we have already known this since last August. Belarusians were already provoking refugees at the border in the fall, shooting hate videos to spread anti-immigration propaganda in Poland and in Europe. Those were videos that put all immigrants and representatives of different minorities on the Belarusian side very badly. What if they kept them in Bruzgi since November, because they knew they could use them?
Lukashenko, the current president of Belarus, has become closer to Putin in recent months which caused the positioning of Russian troops on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border ahead of last month’s invasion. In a recent interview with The Guardian, exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said that she believes that, after the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops, Lukashenko has ceded control of his country to the Kremlin. “We are trying to persuade Belarusian troops not to participate,” Tsikhanouskaya said. “We are communicating with the mothers of the soldiers, trying to persuade them not to let their children go to this war.”
Some of the immigrants who were initially asked to go to Ukraine they feared Belarusian soldiers wanted to offer them a chance to fight alongside the Russians, an offer the wife of an asylum seeker trapped in Bruzgi said they would all have refused. Putin gave the green light to what, according to him, sThere were as many as 16,000 Middle Eastern volunteers deployed alongside Russian-backed rebels fighting in Ukraine as the two-week invasion struggled to maintain momentum. The Syrian army has begun recruiting troops from its own ranks to fight alongside Russian forces in Ukraine, promising payments of $3,000 a month, up to 50 times the monthly salary of a Syrian soldier.
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