Two weeks after his assault, Youssef still has bruises on his face.  Credit: Mehdi Chebil for InfoMigrants

Between November 9 and 13, InfoMigrants met Syrians in eastern Poland who had just entered the country from Belarus. They talk about the violence they suffered from Belarusian soldiers and the difficulties of turning back towards Minsk.

Julia Dumont, special correspondent in Poland.

Youssef’s face is still tinged with yellow and purple bruises and marks of burst vessels in the whites of his eyes. The beatings he received date back two weeks, when he sought to enter Poland illegally from Belarus with three friends. Evening is falling, the forest is everywhere. Youssef knows that you have to be careful: the soldiers are reputed to be violent.

“A car of Belarusian soldiers started chasing us,” Youssef explains. “We ran but they caught up with us. They told us to kneel down and fold our hands behind our heads,” he recalls.

>> To read: More and more violence on the border between Poland and Belarus

Two weeks after his assault, Youssef still has bruises on his face. Credit: Mehdi Chebil for InfoMigrants

Youssef does so, like the rest of the group, but a Belarusian soldier gives him a violent kick in the face. “I passed out the first time, but my friends told me he continued to beat me while I was unconscious,” said the 37-year-old Syrian. According to him, Belarusian guards sometimes beat migrants to extort money from them.

>> To read: Around 100 migrants arrested in Poland after crossing the border

Youssef and his friends then decide to turn back. “Exhausted, we asked the Belarusian soldiers if we could return to our country. They said to us: ‘No, you are going to Poland and, then you can return to your country afterwards.'”

Several testimonies do indeed state the impossibility of setting out again freely towards Minsk. The guards deposit Youssef and his friends in front of the barbed wire fences that separate Belarus from Poland. “We didn’t know where the car was going, it was dark. They took us out, lifted the fence and said ‘Go!’ ”, Recalls Youssef.

Made almost blind by the blows received in the face, this father of two little girls therefore crosses the border hanging on the backpack of a friend who guides him in the forest. His friend Houssam is not far away but, in the midst of dozens of people crossing at the same time as them, the vegetation is more and more dense. Friends end up losing sight of each other.

“Belarusians take everything you have”

Saer was also hit while crossing the border. The light-eyed young man is staying at the Polish accommodation center in Bialystok. He says he received very violent blows in the thorax, “the Belarusian soldiers take everything you have: your money, your cigarettes and even your chocolate”.

Saer was taken to the Lithuanian border by Belarusian soldiers.  Credit: Mehdi Chebil for InfoMigrants
Saer was taken to the Lithuanian border by Belarusian soldiers. Credit: Mehdi Chebil for InfoMigrants

Volunteers from associations that come to the aid of exiles in eastern Poland are used to these accounts of violence committed at the border. According to Anna Chmielewska, of the Ocalenie foundation, the phenomenon is even tending to increase: “In August, we did not receive any information. [à ce sujet]. It started in September-October “.

“Some people have also been bitten by the dogs of Belarusian soldiers,” says Małgorzata Nowosad, spokesperson for the Medicy na granicy (Border Doctors) association and a trained surgeon.

“Let’s keep on walking”

For three days, after crossing the border, Youssef, his backpacker friend and two other people survive as best they can in the forest, drinking the water from the swamps and eating a few lumps of sugar left behind by a group that passed there before them. .

>> To read: “They drink dirty water”: in Poland, migrants terrified by deportations to Belarus

“I was almost hallucinating. Every time we took a break I would pass out. All I remember was my friend’s voice asking me, ‘Youssef, is that are you going? ‘. I always replied:’ All right, let’s keep walking ‘”.

When they finally run into Polish soldiers, Youssef is taken to the hospital. He is now recovering in the Bialystok accommodation center, where he has found refuge. The friend whose backpack he had held to cross the border is sent back to Belarus.

Saer, too, experienced hunger, thirst and cold in the Polish forest. But before that, he tried three times to enter the country. During these attempts, the young Syrian was even taken by Belarusian soldiers to the border of Lithuania, neighboring Poland. “We didn’t know we were going to Lithuania, we saw the network change on our phones,” he recalls.

Saer (center) addresses the media after contacting a Polish association to help exiles.  Credit: Photo: Romain Lemaresquier / RFI
Saer (center) addresses the media after contacting a Polish association to help exiles. Credit: Photo: Romain Lemaresquier / RFI

His attempt to cross through Lithuania was unsuccessful. With a thousand precautions not to be noticed, the young man and his friends manage to return to Minsk to equip themselves to face the cold.

A few days later, they return to the Polish border, the same ballet is repeated: the violence, the organization of the passage by the Belarusian guards, the fear of being spotted by the Poles. This new attempt is the right one for Saer. After days in the forest, he was arrested and hospitalized in Poland. Today, in the Bialystok accommodation center, he is almost having fun remembering this merry-go-round that could have cost him his life: “Belarusians only know three words ‘Go to Poland'”.

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