25 May 2022, Wednesday, 6:28
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‘Military Told Us: Go To Europe And Don’t Come Back To Belarus’

‘Military Told Us: Go To Europe And Don’t Come Back To Belarus’

Every day Lukashists drive dozens of migrants to Latvia, many with frostbite.

Latvia extends the state of emergency on the border with Belarus - the border guard service and the Ministry of Internal Affairs insist on this. While the state of emergency at the border is valid until February 10, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs proposes to extend it until at least May 10. The reason is that the flow of migrants who are trying to get into the EU from Belarus, although it has decreased, still has not stopped completely: every day 50-60 people illegally try to get into Latvia alone. Most of them are citizens of Iraq. In the summer they tried to break through the Lithuanian, then the Polish border, and now they are stuck in the winter forest on the border of Belarus and Latvia, currenttime.tv reports.

The migration crisis on the border of Belarus with the EU countries (Poland, Lithuania and Latvia) began in the summer of 2021. Then hundreds of residents of the Middle East began to come to Belarus, mainly Kurds from Iraq and Syria. Then they appeared on the border with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, accompanied by Belarusian security officials and made attempts to penetrate the EU territory. A strong aggravation occurred on November 15. About two thousand migrants came to the Bruzgi-Kuznica checkpoint, the main checkpoint on the border between Belarus and Poland, tried to break the barriers at the checkpoint and in no man's land, threw stones and bottles at the border guards. The Polish border guards responded with tear gas and water cannons.

After the arrival of migrants at the Bruzgi-Kuznica checkpoint, Lukashenka spoke twice with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. As a result of these conversations, the EU did not take the decision to accept migrants, which the Belarusian authorities insisted on, but allocated 700,000 euros for the maintenance of these people in Belarus. The EU has also imposed sanctions on the Belarusian authorities in connection with the migration crisis.

The border between Belarus and Latvia is called the “green border”: in this area there are forests, swamps, and peasant farms, flocks of roe deer move from one field to another. After the state of emergency was introduced here, in order to be in the two-kilometer border zone, local residents need a special pass: it is easy to obtain it electronically by filling out a questionnaire. From the Latvian side, the territory is constantly patrolled by border guards. They accuse their Belarusian colleagues not just of letting migrants through to the border, but of organizing the traffic of migrants.

“All traffic on the border is controlled by the power structures of the Republic of Belarus. We see how people (from the Belarusian side) are being led by their border guards,” emphasizes Juris Kusins, head of the Daugavpils Department of the State Border Guard service. “They give instructions to move in the direction of Latvia, show where to go. People later tell us that they are not allowed back to Belarus. They could have left the border for the airport to fly away. But they are simply not allowed to leave the border.”

Latvian border guards call people stuck at the border hostages. They cannot enter Latvia: the patrols will not let them into the country. And they are also not allowed to return home - already by those who control the border from the Belarusian side. This is confirmed by Bahaa Jalil, an Iraqi citizen who, together with his family, spent more than two months in the forest on the border in autumn.

Bahaa flew to Minsk with his wife and two children. He says that the military took them straight from the hotel.

“I asked where they were taking us. They said we shouldn’t ask them anything. We were taken to a place called Urbany. It’s near the Latvian border,” he says. “There were a lot of people in this village. From Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen. A lot of people, about a thousand. The military told us: “Go to Europe and don't come back to Belarus”.

Bahaa says that he tried to cross the border thrice, but unsuccessfully. The Belarusian security officials did not allow him to return to Minsk either.

“We were beaten. Not my wife and children, but me and other people were beaten. The men were beaten,” says the Iraqi citizen. “I asked many times to help me get back home. I called the Iraqi embassy, explained that we were taken away, and said I didn’t know where they had brought us. We lived in the forest, we had no protection from the weather or animals. It rained for ten days in a row. It was very cold and very hard.”

Bahaa says that at some point his family was divided: his wife and children were transferred to another place near the border. Bahaa searched for them for 10 days. As a result, he found them, and they all fled together to Minsk and flew home to Iraq. In his homeland, Bahaa was restored at work in a hospital and returned to normal life.

Now it’s 10 below zero on the border of Latvia and Belarus. There is deep snow everywhere. It is impossible to imagine how people can live in such conditions for months. But, according to charitable organizations, some migrants have been living in the forest in the border area for 4 months.

“There is a tent on the Latvian side where people are accommodated at night. But during the day they are pushed back to Belarus,” says Egils Grasmanis, an activist with the Latvian organization I Want to Help Refugees. “Charity organizations or the press are not allowed near this tent or other places, where people are now.

Officially, the border guards have not confirmed the information that migrants are allowed to warm up at night: they emphasize that no one is allowed into the country. But they say that they help people in a critical situation: for example, an ambulance can be called to the border zone so that people can warm themselves in cars.

“If necessary, we distribute dry rations to people, various essentials. If needed, we give them warm clothes and shoes that were delivered to us by charitable organizations or the border guards themselves,” says Juris Kusins. In the last two weeks, we let in three people, they got severe frostbite in the forest. They are given medical care and placed in a detention center for foreigners. Then they are simply deported.”

Latvian officials describe the situation at the border as “tense but controlled”. However, they emphasize that every day the number of attempts to cross the border is increasing.

“These may be the same people who try to pass several times,” says Guntis Pujats, head of the Latvian State Border Guard. “But now we know about several large groups of people at the border. They try to pass, we do not let people retreat. But the situation is constantly changing.”

Latvian border guards believe that most of the people who are now near the border with Latvia earlier were on the border with Poland, then with Lithuania. Now the Belarusian security officers have brought people to these forests, apparently because a solid high fence should be installed here only in the spring, and at first glance it seemed that it would be relatively easy to cross the border. Latvian border guards installed a temporary barbed wire fence in open areas where it was easiest to pass. Cameras, motion sensors in the forest, patrols on snowmobiles and ATVs, surveillance from towers and foot patrols also help to catch migrants.

Those migrants whom the border guards still let into Latvia for humanitarian reasons end up either in a hospital or in a center for detained foreigners. This is a closed institution, with guards and barbed wire, which people cannot freely leave. From it, the detainees are taken to the airport and deported.