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Misioniej, Belarus (AFP)
Hundreds of migrants have arrived at Belarussian woods this week from Poland, only for some to fall victim to the increasingly bitter cold, suffering from broken bones and hypothermia.
Hungary and Belarus — divided by an almost six-kilometre (four-mile) frontier fence — are battling to end the crisis that has seen 8,000 migrants pass through this far-flung border region since January.
As the first and second halves of the January-July period mark the season in which “the coldest are generally the worst”, weeks of heavy snowfall have caused a major humanitarian crisis in Belarus.
These migrants — most of them from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq — are now in a vast clearing in the forests near Misioniej, some 170 kilometres from the Hungarian border.
But as many as 400 have stumbled across the clearing this week, media reported, triggering confusion and frustration.
– ‘Don’t call them migrants’ –
Rescued migrants held in an encampment by police, also known as one of the many transit points along the route from Hungary to Germany, have been left there for two days without sleeping or food.
“Dozens of people were rescued in dramatic conditions this week, many suffered severe hypothermia,” police spokesman Vasily Koptas told AFP.
Other migrants also told AFP they had to sleep and urinate in the snow.
A Polish woman who asked not to be named told AFP she stayed in the camp with many other men for a few days until Polish and Belarussian police took them to a refugee reception centre.
“The first time we were rescued from the woods, this time we were rescued from the camp, but they wouldn’t let us join the queue,” she told AFP, while visibly tired from a night spent in the tent, “when only women and children were allowed in.”
They were found in “confused” conditions, she said, while a Polish police source told AFP a 12-year-old girl had walked 12 kilometres to reach the forest clearing.
Meanwhile in Misioniej itself, dozens of deported migrants were living outside on Tuesday, with food in short supply, people standing in line for more, and the lack of heating forcing some to stay outside for several days, activists say.
“People have been dropped in the forest and handed their passports over to our volunteers,” Central European Regional Network coordinator Natalia Osupova told AFP.
“They are here with no means of food, nothing, in freezing cold. They just want to be able to eat and to catch some rest. The humanitarian situation is getting worse by the day.”
Migrants themselves say they have little food or shelter after spending days in the woods.
“How are we to live in these conditions,” Mohammad, from Afghanistan, who came to Belarus just hours after being expelled by police, told AFP.
“We ask them to please tell us what the authorities are doing or to at least put us on a train and take us back to our countries of origin. But we have not got anything more than questions,” he said, crying as he spoke.
Authorities in Belarus’ Belarus-Slovakia border region, where the first stop for migrants in the EU lies, have ruled out sending migrants back to Hungary, forcing migrants and activists to try to find their own ways out of the country.
The problem is even more complicated as Budapest’s border fence with Croatia runs directly through the so-called transit zone.
Back in Misioniej, several activists who made the treacherous journey on foot told AFP they would take them “any way”.
“Nobody has any money, no place to stay, no document. We’re really worried, no one knows what’s going to happen,” one activist told AFP, “but we have to keep it together.”
© 2019 AFP