For migrants trying to survive in the woods on the Polish-Belarus border, the winter is set to put many lives at risk.
Abdi Fitah lost his shoes in a river while he was trying to get across the border into Poland from Belarus. For days he had to walk barefoot and freezing through the woods.
The 23-year-old Somali is one of several thousand people from Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan, who have tried to enter Poland in recent weeks. Many of them, including children, remain stranded at the border with Belarus. As winter approaches, the conditions are becoming even worse, and aid workers are concerned about their survival.
Jakub Sieczko, a medical doctor and coordinator of the aid group Medycy na Granicy (Medics on the Border) said he feared there would be more deaths as temperatures drop.
"There are more and more people who are hungry and dehydrated... The conditions are getting worse," Sieczko told the Reuters news agency.
Many migrants like Abdi Fitah, who are from warm countries, are unprepared for the cold, Sieczko added.
Ibrahim told Reuters that he had left Somalia 15 days ago. Walking through the woods together with other migrants he felt as though he was having a heart attack. Luckily, at the border he was able to receive medical treatment for hypothermia.
"The conditions are very cold, (we're) not wearing shoes," Ibrahim said, explaining how he, like Abdi, lost his shoes in the river. "The leg is a big problem. I'm not wearing (enough) clothes...(or) shoes."
Taken away by border guard truck
He crossed the border with six other Somalis. Three of them ended up in an ambulance due to their health problems, which included a sprained ankle as well as hypothermia. Four were driven off in a border guard truck. According to Reuters, it is unclear whether they went to a detention center or were pushed back to the border.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said Poland is in breach of international law in forcing migrants back into Belarus instead of allowing them to claim asylum. EU law clearly forbids the practice of sending away asylum seekers without assessing their claim for protection.
Poland says it is respecting its international obligations while trying to stop the increasing number of migrants entering the EU by crossing the Polish border in the hope of seeking asylum in western Europe.
The government of Belarus has been blamed for encouraging migrants to travel to Belarus and then shuffling them to the EU’s borders in retaliation for sanctions imposed by Brussels.
Turned back into the woods
Since early August, Polish authorities say that there have been more than 15,000 attempts to cross the border from Belarus, mostly by Iraqi, Afghan and Syrian nationals. The attempts have become more frequent and now exceed 500 a day.
The number of so-called pushbacks is also rising, according to Franek Sterczewski, a Polish parliamentary deputy with leading opposition group Civic Coalition.
"(The Somali migrants) were sent back to the border seven times," Sterczweski told Reuters. "They've been wandering the forest for weeks, the temperature at night is around zero degrees, it's raining and it's very cold. Pushing them back will put their health and life at risk."
Based on a report by Reuters