Food, a chance to warm up, charging one's phone – these are some of the things locals on the Polish side of the Poland-Belarus border are offering to migrants via the 'Green Light' initiative. Their houses are marked with a green light. Meanwhile, the situation of the some 15,000 migrants at the border is getting worse.
It's a rare positive story for migrants stuck in the border area between Poland and Belarus: A Polish lawyer who lives near the border has started a project to help migrants who have crossed irregularly into Poland from Belarus.
"In the house marked with green light from evening on, you will find emergency help," it says on the Green Light Facebook page, which was created on October 12. Aside from English, the page offers information in four other languages -- Polish, Arabic, Kurdish and French.
The lawyer, Kamil Syller, has appealed to his neighbors in the village of Dubicze Cerkiewne in northeastern Poland to install and switch on a green light to signal to migrants they can receive food and other emergency supplies.
According to Syller, many migrants have inadvertently put themselves at risk by staying in forests during the cold weather rather than asking locals for help -- because they fear being sent back to Belarus, British public broadcaster BBC reported.
The border area is a hostile environment: Seven migrants were found dead near the border in recent weeks. They likely died from hypothermia as temperatures in the region have dropped below freezing, according to the BBC.
'We must remain human'
Speaking to Wyborcza, a Polish newspaper, Syller said that migrants coming to the homes could count on receiving a meal, a change of clothes, first aid and the chance to charge their phones.
"We won't help you hide or travel further. We will only help you survive -- as part of solidarity with a person in need," the Facebook page reads. Syller also criticized the Polish government for the way it has been treating the arrivals.
He said he felt obliged to help: "We have to meet people who wander or lie cold, hungry, sometimes wounded, and sometimes just dying in the woods. The green light will reduce their fear of asking for immediate help," he told Wyborcza.
Criticism of the government
At the same time, he warned that some residents have installed green lights to "lure" migrants and then hand them over to Polish police. He also acknowledged that houses with green lights may attract the attention of authorities and unintentionally help them catch the migrants.
"The authorities of our country, enacting draconian regulations that will soon come into force and will legalize pushbacks, have calculated the death of refugees in them," the activist said. "We, the inhabitants of the borderland, who see human drama and suffering, do not have to calculate. We must remain human."
On Sunday (October 17), thousands of people protested in the capital Warsaw to show solidarity with migrants at the Poland-Belarus border who have been turned back by Polish authorities. Warning that those stranded at the border could freeze to death, some protesters waved banners made of thermal blankets.
Last week, Poland's Parliament legalized pushbacks, an illegal practice human rights organizations have criticized Poland for. Back in September, Poland declared a state of emergency in the border region, which it has since renewed.
Aside from the Green Light initiative, there's little else the some 15,000 irregular migrants at the border area can count on.
Poland has been trying to keep migrants coming from Belarus away with new border barriers. Last week, Polish lawmakers greenlighted a draft law which would allow the country to erect a wall on its border with Belarus.
Large numbers of mainly Middle Eastern migrants have also crossed into fellow EU member states Lithuania and Latvia over the past few months.
Underlying the spike in irregular migrant arrivals to the EU via Belarus is a complicated geopolitical conflict. In May, Lukashenko's security forces diverted a Ryanair plane with a Belarusian activist on board flying from Greece to Lithuania. As a result, the EU imposed sanctions on Belarus.
In return, Lukashenko indicated that Belarus could retaliate by loosening border controls for irregular, western-bound migrants as well as drug trafficking. "We used to catch migrants in droves here -- now, forget it, you will be catching them yourselves," he said on May 26.