Commentary: Migrants dying near EU borders – another blow to its reputation | Comments from DW Reviewers and Guest Contributors | Dw

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When a police officer noticed food and water in our car, he started asking questions. My translator and I were at that moment at a Polish checkpoint located near the border with Belarus. Such checkpoints are one of the measures that the Polish authorities have taken to prevent migrants from moving to their country.

“Is this for refugees?” the policeman asked. He took our IDs and was about to invite us for a conversation, but my companion somehow managed to convince him that the food was for ourselves and that we were not going to enter the densely forested border zone.

Survive the border area

At first I was relieved, but almost immediately I realized what this means: hunger and thirst, as well as hypothermia, which migrants hiding in the forest from Polish border guards are exposed to – this is not an unfortunate accident caused by the state of emergency. This is part of the strategy.

Amiens Joseph

Checkpoints at the Polish-Belarusian border are needed not only to prevent migrants from entering Poland. Their purpose is also to prevent local residents from helping migrants to survive in this no-man’s land. Emergency services are allowed to receive calls. In addition, as the border guards told me, they are doing everything to save human lives.

That is so, but at the same time, the Polish authorities are well aware that migrants will ask for help only when they lose their last hope of avoiding meeting with these very authorities and give up their intention to apply for asylum in the EU. Migrants often wait too long: at least 11 of them have already died trying to cross the border.

When migrants drowned in the Mediterranean

Violence of this nature is not new when it comes to critical refugee situations. To some extent, this is a continuation of what has happened over the years in the Mediterranean. When rescue ships were treated like smugglers’ ships and prevented from going to rescue drowning migrants. Because of this, rescuers sometimes found themselves at the scene of the tragedy when it was already too late.

Yet in the case of the Mediterranean, neither the media nor civil society was prohibited from trying to figure out what was really going on – and to provide assistance. This month, a man drowned in a river flowing on the border between Belarus and Poland. Last week, a Syrian man and woman asked for help. Cuts and puncture wounds were visible on their bodies. Why did this man drown? Who inflicted these wounds on the man and woman?

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In the EU, one would expect journalists and lawyers to investigate these questions. But whoever thinks so is wrong. Apparently, the rules have changed. At least when it comes to the eastern borders of the European Union.

Locals lend a helping hand

But if the Polish authorities do not save their lives, the people of Poland come to the aid of the people, and this gives hope. In a situation where such large international organizations as Médecins sans Frontières or Save the Children are unable to do their job, local residents take their place. After all, the police cannot forbid them to move freely. Some of the residents of the border zone turn on the lights in their windows to send a signal to migrants: here you can ask for help.

This week I met a woman from the Polish border town of Hajnowka, who read on the Internet that people were dying in the forest near her house. A couple of days ago, she joined a group of volunteers called Granica (Border), which is helping migrants and getting the Polish authorities to allow them to apply for asylum.

Each of those with whom I managed to speak, admits that the situation is very difficult. The authoritarian ruler of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, provoked the crisis by opening a land route for migrants to the EU borders. Moreover, there is evidence of how the Belarusian border guards literally pushed those wishing to apply for asylum to the Polish border fence.

Yet the Polish government’s response is another blow to the EU’s reputation in this provoked migration crisis. Brussels seems to be most concerned about the threat from Lukashenka. However, by allowing the 400-kilometer border strip to become a democracy-free zone, the EU has already ceded part of its territory to authoritarianism.

Posted by Amien Essif, Deutsche Welle correspondent who visited the Polish-Belarusian border

The commentary expresses the personal opinion of the author. It may not coincide with the opinion of the Russian editorial office and Deutsche Welle in general.

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