Around 2,000 migrants camped for days in precarious conditions on the Belarusian border with Poland were taken in at a nearby logistics center, while hundreds were repatriated to Iraq once hope of entering the European Union was lost.
“On November 18, all the refugees from the camp on the Belarusian-Polish border, near the Bruzgi pass, were transferred voluntarily to a logistics center,” the Belarusian border guards said on Telegram, along with images from the camp apparently abandoned.
On Tuesday, more than a thousand migrants had already been welcomed in this huge hangar located near the border. But some 800 had chosen to remain camped in temperatures below zero degrees, sheltered in tents or near bonfires.
Finally, they decided to move to the logistics center in the face of “worsening weather conditions,” said the Belarusian border guards. There, they receive “food and warm clothes and basic necessities”, they assured.
Caught in a geopolitical conflict between Belarus and the European Union, these migrants, mostly from Iraq, had set up a makeshift camp in a wooded area near the Bruzgi border crossing.
It was there that Polish border guards used water cannons and tear gas on Tuesday to disperse a large group of migrants seeking to enter their territory, on the eastern border of the European Union.
European governments accuse Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of luring thousands of migrants – many of them Iraqi Kurds – to the border in retaliation for sanctions imposed against the former Soviet republic.
The NGOs say at least 11 migrants have died since the crisis began. The Polish Center for International Aid, a humanitarian group, claimed to have cared for a Syrian couple who claimed to have lost their one-year-old son.
The President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, called for this “inhumanity” to cease. “It is heartbreaking to see a child die in the cold and at the gates of the European Union,” he said on Twitter.
Repatriation to Iraq
After weeks trapped in that cold border, protected by sharp barbed wire and more than 15,000 soldiers, some migrants are beginning to give up on their goal of reaching the European Union.
On Thursday night, 431 arrived on a repatriation flight to Iraq, mostly to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Many children and women were on this flight, the first organized since the start of the migration crisis, carried out “on the basis of volunteerism,” Iraqi authorities said.
This evacuation occurs after the first contact between Belarus and European leaders, specifically two calls between Lukashenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the second on Wednesday.
Those have been the first contacts with a European leader of the Belarusian autocrat since last year’s elections, peppered with accusations of fraud and which led to a major, harshly repressed protest movement.
Belarus said Thursday that there are still 7,000 migrants in its territory and proposed to repatriate 5,000 of them to their countries. According to her presidency, Merkel was going to negotiate with the European Union to create a “humanitarian corridor” to bring the other 2,000 to Germany.
“Germany has not agreed to this,” a government source in Berlin later denied to AFP.
On Thursday, the G7 members asked “the regime [de Bielorrusia] to put an immediate end to its aggressive campaign (…) to avoid further deaths and more suffering ”.
Also the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, warned that Belarus’s “attempts” to “weaponize immigration must stop.”
On the ground, attempts to cross the border do not stop.
The Polish border guard said that some 500 migrants tried to enter its territory and 200 of them succeeded, although they were later detained.
The source said that a family of five, including three children between the ages of seven and nine, were injured and taken to hospital.
The Polish Defense Ministry explained on Twitter that Belarusian forces had damaged the border fence and then “forced migrants to throw stones at Polish soldiers to divert their attention.”
The incident could not be independently verified as access to the press to the border area is restricted by the declaration of a state of emergency in Poland.
In another incident, videos released by Belarusian border guards show a dog of a Lithuanian agent manning a man lying in a sleeping bag on the ground.
Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski warned that if the crisis “has not stabilized on Sunday”, Poland will interrupt rail traffic with Belarus.
For his part, French President Emmanuel Macron showed his solidarity with Warsaw in two calls with his counterpart Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
The latter had denounced on Thursday any official contact between European leaders and the Lukashenko regime, estimating that this would end by “legitimizing” it.