Dozens remain stranded in Belarus after they were brought in last year on the promise of entry into the EU. More than a dozen reportedly died during that time due to freezing conditions.
Now they have been forced at gunpoint to decide whether to again attempt the border crossing into Poland — where they have been repeatedly pushed back, sometimes violently — or enter Ukraine.
One of them, whose name and nationality have been withheld, told The Guardian: “A group of seven border guard officers that we had never seen before entered the building. They wore military clothes and, for the first time, they entered the camp holding weapons, beating us and telling us that we had two choices — either crossing into Poland or going to Ukraine.”
The unnamed man said soldiers began to inspect “every inch of the camp,” entering each tent and gathering people in order to communicate the new directives.
“Everyone was wondering what our future would be,” he added. “We are peaceful people. There are families with children. What do these armed men want from us?”
He said: “They made us sit on the ground and the officer again asked people if they wanted to go to Poland or Ukraine. Poland or Ukraine. This is the new way of smuggling people for the Belarusians.”
Anna Alboth, co-founder of Grupa Granica, a Polish network of NGOs monitoring the situation on the border, said they had noticed a recent uptick in crossings from Belarus to Poland.
“The Polish border guards are still pushing them back to Belarus every day,” she added. “Even yesterday, we were in contact with a Syrian family of 10, including a few kids. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to help them with food and clothes, because they were already pushed back to Belarus.”