By Yara Abi Nader
SIEMIATYCZE, Poland (Reuters) – Anguished relatives of migrants trapped in the forest along the Poland-Belarus border are arriving in Polish border towns in the hope of helping their loved ones escape as violence from border guards escalates and temperatures plummet.
Among them is a Syrian living in Sweden who is desperate to find his daughter, Hilda Naaman, a 25-year-old doctor who was on her way to Europe from Syria.
The man, who called himself Abou Elias, said she has spent the last 25 days on the border hungry, thirsty and recovering from beatings by the Belarusian border guard.
“She can’t walk anymore. My daughter’s nails were pulled off. Belarusians came at night, beating them with an electric stick… telling them to go to Poland. Polish welcomed them only to bring them back,” Abou Elias said.
The European Union accuses Minsk of creating a migrant crisis at its eastern border as part of a “hybrid attack” on the bloc – distributing Belarusian visas in the Middle East, flying in the migrants and then pushing them to cross the border illegally.
Belarus denies fomenting the crisis, but has also said it cannot help resolve it unless Europe lifts existing sanctions.
Abou Elias himself went through his own migration journey to Europe in 2014, where he said he fell into a “smuggler’s trap.” He fears the same has happened to his daughter.
She’s barely been in touch with him, having lost her phone. He said that, from what she had told him the few times they spoke before, Belarusian authorities were asking migrants to pay around $100 to charge 20% of their phone batteries.
The Belarusian authorities did not respond to Reuters request for comment, but have denied violence against migrants in the past.
NO POLISH HELP
Abou Elias said the Polish police have pushed his daughter and other migrants back into Belarus repeatedly, sometimes with dogs, despite repressions from the Belarusian side.
“She is here, 40 kilometres away, they are playing us… Poland doesn’t let them in, and the other (Belarus) doesn’t allow them to go back. They are not people. They are monsters, monsters, monsters,” he said in tears.
The Polish border guard did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
He said that his daughter had managed recently to contact him through a borrowed phone, passing on her plan to go to Germany soon. Now, he hopes to go there too to wait for her, but he has no idea what will come of it.
“I am dead, I have no emotion. I am a dead person,” he told Reuters. “They are playing against each other, back and forth, and who is the fuel? These people, these poor people.”
(Reporting by Yara Abi Nader, Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv, Writing by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)