There are 200 children and 600 women among some 2,000 people clustered along the Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing that separates Belarus from Poland, Belarusian border officials told CNN on Friday. Some of them are just babies or toddlers.
The migrants, most of whom are from the Middle East and Asia, seek to cross illegally into Poland and from there to other European countries, particularly Germany, in search of a better life.
A lucky few have small tents; Others have built crude shelters out of the branches and branches of the coniferous trees that surround them. Behind them is the forest; in front of the barbed wire fence erected by Poland to keep them out, patrolled by Polish policemen, border guards and soldiers.
The 28-year-old mother, Shoxan Bapir Hussain, said she had embarked on the journey from Iraqi Kurdistan with her husband and four-year-old son Azhi Ali Xder because the boy needs surgery for a back condition. Azhi, who has splints on her legs, cannot walk, she said.
When asked why Azhi did not undergo surgery in Kurdistan, his mother replied: “Because not very well and maybe the operation failed … the doctor told me that the operation in Germany is very good.”
The CNN team, which was escorted to the camp behind by Belarusian authorities on Friday and Saturday, saw minimal infrastructure to support the thousands of people gathered there, with only two small water tanks and no visible toilet facilities.
The Belarusian Red Cross is delivering food and water, but migrants who spoke to CNN said the deliveries were insufficient and uncertain. There is barely enough to keep those already here alive, and border officials in the Belarusian state estimated that the number of people in the border region would rise to 5,000 in a week.
As desperate people scrambled to get firewood, logs to sit on and other supplies from trucks carrying aid, the Belarusian armed forces tried to push back. Those who huddled around one of those trucks delivering water were made to kneel on the cold ground before some could pass to collect bottles.
“I’m hungry, I’m hungry,” said a young woman in English.
Parents Ahmed and Ala, with their 15-year-old daughter Reza, told CNN that they had traveled from Iraqi Kurdistan in search of a better life in Europe. They had been there for seven nights, they said, and still hope to reach Europe.
Another man, identifying himself only as Binar, said he had paid $ 2,000 to make the trip from Iraqi Kurdistan. “Our people want to go to Germany,” he said.
Western leaders have accused Belarus of fabricating a migration crisis on the eastern border of the European Union in retaliation for sanctions for human rights abuses.
The government of President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly denied such claims, blaming the West for the crossings and accusing it of mistreating migrants.
Russia, Belarus’ largest political and economic partner, continues to defend Minsk’s handling of the border crisis while denying any involvement in it.
President Vladimir Putin said in an interview broadcast on Sunday by the Russia-1 television channel that Russia was “ready to help in every way possible if, of course, something will depend on us here,” the state news agency TASS reported. .
Putin also placed the responsibility for the crisis at the door of the EU, accusing it of creating the conditions that provoke the influx of immigrants. “And now they are looking for someone to blame, to absolve themselves of responsibility for the events that are occurring,” he said, according to TASS.
Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski on Saturday called the worsening situation “an attack on the entire European Union using an artificially created migration crisis.”
Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell spoke by phone on Sunday, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said. “Vladimir Makei informed his interlocutor about the measures taken by Belarus to reduce the flow of migrants from Asia, Africa and the Middle East,” as well as the provision of humanitarian assistance, the ministry statement said.
Borrell told the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that on Monday EU foreign ministers would extend sanctions on Belarus to include airlines and travel agencies believed to be involved in bringing immigrants to the Belarusian-Polish border. Sanctions could also be imposed on some 30 Belarusian officials believed to be involved in the crisis, he told the newspaper.
Poland: Forces ‘on hold’
Meanwhile, Belarusian authorities insist they are doing everything possible to help those trapped in the border region.
“The situation in the refugee camp on the Belarusian-Polish border remains difficult, however, the Belarusian side is doing everything possible to provide people and especially children with everything they need,” said the State Committee of Borders of Belarus in a statement on Saturday.
“All measures are being taken to provide assistance to the refugees. The border service guarantees the necessary order and protection of the state border.”
Poland has banned international journalists and observers from entering the border region, making it difficult to assess the situation on the Polish side of the fence. But there are still no signs that tensions are easing.
The Polish Border Guard claimed on Sunday that dozens of migrants with the help of Belarusian security forces were preparing a “major attempt to cross” the Polish border.
“Some of the tents are starting to disappear. Foreigners receive instructions, equipment and gas from Belarusian services. You can see that the Belarusian side is preparing today for a major attempt to cross the border. Our forces are ready for action. “said the border. guard tweeted.
Polish authorities also reported seeing more groups of armed Belarusian officers and growing commotion among migrants. Belarus’ state television ATN reported that a group of about 100 or more refugees was heading to the migrant camp.
Poland’s Ministry of National Defense tweeted early Sunday that its forces in the Kuznica border area had been put “on hold.”
On Saturday night, Poland sent a mass SMS message to the region’s phones to warn that rumors that the Polish border was not well guarded or that immigrants would be allowed to pass into Germany were “total lie and nonsense. “. Another SMS message read, in part: “The Polish border is sealed. The BLR authorities have lied to you. Go back to Minsk!”
The messages include a link to a Polish government website with a longer and more direct message, warning that any effort to storm the border could lead to “dangerous developments.”
The show of force unfolding in the region continues to test a fragile political order, and US allegations of Russia’s military build-up deepen concerns about the potential for a broader geopolitical crisis.
Neighboring Ukraine is also increasing security, announcing on Thursday that it will conduct military drills with some 8,500 military personnel and 15 helicopters in an area near its borders with Poland and Belarus to counter a possible migration crisis.
As long as the international standoff continues, those caught between the Polish security forces in front of them and the Belarusian security forces behind them will have little hope and blazing fire to keep them going.
CNN’s Antonia Mortensen and Katharina Krebs contributed to this report.