The Observers

Observers special report: How migrants found themselves trapped at the Belarus-Poland border

Migrants in Belarus, brought to the border by taxi.
Migrants in Belarus, brought to the border by taxi. © Observers

Misled by smugglers, turned back by Polish border guards or pushed past the barbed wire by Belarusian authorities... In this special episode (watch below), three of our Observers, migrants who tried to enter Poland via Belarus, told us what is really happening during this crisis. Their voices and the videos they have taken give us unparalleled access to the challenges faced at the border.

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They are from Iraq, Syria or sub-Saharan Africa, often convinced by rumours that the borders between Belarus and Poland or Lithuania are "open", that entering the EU would be easy. Hoping to achieve their European dream, these migrants flocked in, soon to realise that reality is completely at odds with what they were told.

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When he learned that Belarus was offering visas to Iraqis, Mostafa Mohsin didn't delay. He had been dreaming of leaving Iraq for years, fed up with violence, unemployment and corruption. An aspiring journalist, he decided to film his experience: the moment he said goodbye to his mother, his flights to Dubai and then to Minsk, shopping for materials to camp in the forest and cut the barbed wire at the border fences... and finally, his arrival in Germany. 

Although Mostafa was successful, hoping to eventually gain refugee status, our other Observers got stuck on the Belarusian side of the border. Sirwan (not his real name), who is Kurdish, participated in a massive mobilisation of migrants on November 8, encouraged by videos on some Facebook pages to gather and make a collective entrance into Poland. He, like most of those with him, had to stay in a makeshift camp in front of the barbed wire fences on the Belarusian border, in the harsh cold with little to eat. 

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Our Observer Jimmy (not his real name), who comes from central Africa, was also struck by the cold. He told us how he, his wife and two children were among a number of migrants who were escorted and pushed toward the Polish border by Belarusian guards. After trying three times to cross the border, and being pushed back by Polish guards each time, Jimmy decided to give up. 

His daughter had caught a cold and had a fever, so he turned back. But to get back past Belarusian authorities, he was forced to pay a bribe. Several other migrants we spoke to told similar stories of being asked for bribes, just one way in which the thousands of people stuck at the Belarus-Poland border have become trapped in this geopolitical confrontation.