Wetlands and forest cover much of the border between Belarus and Poland, making it difficult to survive | Photo: Kancelaria Premiera (Polish Prime Minister's Office)
Wetlands and forest cover much of the border between Belarus and Poland, making it difficult to survive | Photo: Kancelaria Premiera (Polish Prime Minister's Office)

The Polish authorities have been searching for bodies in wetlands at the Polish-Belarus border after at least three bodies of migrants were found in the last ten days. There are fears that the death toll could rise.

"There may be more bodies, so we are searching the area. The police, the border guard and the army are involved in the search," explained Anna Michalska, spokesperson for the Polish border guard on Friday, January 13.

Two bodies were found on Thursday (January 12) and Friday (January 13) last week, reported the news agency Reuters. Their identity has not yet been confirmed. On January 7, a Yemeni doctor, named as Dr Ibrahim Dihiya by Grupa Granica, (the umbrella organization for NGOs helping migrants and asylum seekers at the Polish border with Belarus,) was found.

Grupa Granica says that since the summer of 2021 when migrants began crossing along the route from Belarus "about 285 people" have been reported missing. The NGO organization called on the Polish border guard over the weekend to begin "taking urgent action to prevent further casualties."

'End deportations'

Fences and allegations of pushbacks by the Polish authorities of migrants found crossing the border without papers are part of the problem leading to these kinds of deaths, thinks Grupa Granica.

On Sunday, Maja Ostaszewska from the group published a video statement on Twitter, in which she and the group called for "an end to deportations and [for] humane treatment of migrants on the Polish-Belarusian border." Ostaszewska added that winter posed an additional threat to migrants trying to cross the border from Belarus into the EU.

Although there is a 5.5-meter tall fence along most of the border between Poland and Belarus, the Polish border guard says they have already recorded 530 attempts to cross the border since the beginning of the year, reported Reuters.

Between 14 and 33 migrants may have died at the border

Grupa Granica told the agency that they had received 121 calls for help from migrants and had provided aid to 84 people. Since August 2021, the Border Guard state that 14 migrants have died on the Polish side of the border, this number is disputed by Grupa Granica, which puts it at 33.

Aleksandra Loboda from Grupa Granica told Reuters, "In total, we have received 200 missing persons alerts. Sometimes we find people in guarded detention centers run by the Border Guard, sometimes bodies are found."

Although efforts have been made to close down the travel agencies offering migrants, mostly from the Middle East tickets into Minsk, Belarus’ capital, in the hope that they can make it across the border into the EU, migrants have continued to arrive in Belarus, reports Reuters.

Fewer entry attempts in 2022

In 2022, the Polish border guard confirmed to the German press agency dpa that there were fewer illegal entry attempts from Belarus (15,700) throughout the year compared to 2021 (around 40,000). A spokesperson for the Border guard told Poland’s PAP news agency that they believed the high fence had acted as the main deterrent to crossing attempts.

Many of those who have died at the border have died because of exposure to cold. Temperatures can fall well below zero in winter time in this area. In addition much of the terrain is covered in swamps, forests and wetlands, making it difficult to navigate or survive the cold once you are wet.

With Reuters, dpa, PAP


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