The body of an Ethiopian woman was found in the forest in the Polish-Belarusian border area at the weekend. Poland's Human Rights Commissioner is examining a complaint over her death, the fifth in the border region in less than two months.
A 28-year-old Ethiopian migrant who had been missing for a week was found dead on Sunday, February 12, in the Bialowieza Forest near the Belarusian border.
She was discovered by activists from a local humanitarian group, Podlaskie Voluntary Humanitarian Emergency Service, sources including the Polish daily Wyborcza Gazette, reported.
Missing for a week
The woman had been left alone in the woods after her husband and another member of her group went to seek help, as she had become weak, the activists said. However, they said no help arrived and the two did not return: they were apprehended and sent back to the Belarus border by Polish border guards.
After relatives reported the young woman missing, the activists had called the hospitals in the area and sent them a photo of her wearing a red sweater, a hat and a down jacket. In the morning on Sunday, they reported her disappearance to the police in Hajnowka, who then joined them in the search.
Later, near the forest road, they found her body, dressed in the same sweater and hat as in the photo, only the jacket was missing. Next to her on the ground was a Christian prayer book with pictures of saints.
'Despite asking for help, she was not rescued'
"It's her, I recognize her face," says Piotr Czaban, one of the two activists who discovered the woman’s body, in a video filmed while searching the woods.
"She could still be alive, if on February 4, the police and the Border Guard went to the place indicated by the girl’s friends. She was still alive back then," continues Czaban in the video, which InfoMigrants was unable to verify.
The group claims that Polish authorities failed to try to rescue the woman and pushed back the others who had gone to seek help for her.
"I just feel it's so unjust that someone had to die, in winter, in the dark forest without help. Despite asking for help, she was not rescued," says fellow activist Katarzyna Mazurkiewicz-Bylok.
Call for investigation
Following the discovery of the woman's body, Grupa Granica, a group monitoring the situation of migrants at the Polish-Belarusian border, called for an investigation.
A complaint has been lodged with Poland's Commissioner for Human Rights, which says it has requested explanations from the Border Guard and police "as part of ongoing proceedings".
The Ethiopian woman’s death is the fifth migrant death on the border this year. Three of the deceased remain unidentified.
In 2021, large numbers of migrants, mostly from the Middle East and Africa, tried to enter the European Union via Belarus, but were stopped at the borders of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. Many have been left stranded in the forests or pushed back to Belarus, according to human rights groups. They say at least 35 migrants have died on the Polish side of the border since August 2021.
InfoMigrants has sought comment from the Polish Border Guard in relation to the most recent death in Podlaskie but as of noon, February 16, we have not received a reply.