The Poland-Belarus Border Is the Site of a New Migrant Crisis
European officials insist such policies are necessary. Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, said in late September that the bloc must “stand together to protect our external borders.” But what kind of politics is the E.U. enabling?
On Sept. 27, Poland’s interior ministry held a news conference accusing the refugees of terrorism, zoophilia and pedophilia. As “proof” it offered a presentation of photos supposedly taken from migrants’ cellphones, which included images of Islamic State decapitations and a man having sex with a horse. Journalists revealed that these shots actually came from the internet and had no connection to the migrants.
The presentation was “crazy and evil, but also silly and poorly done,” Franciszek Sterczewski, a member of the Polish parliament from the opposition party Civic Coalition, told me recently. Mr. Sterczewski made headlines in August when he was filmed trying to dash past soldiers and border guards to deliver bags full of supplies to the refugees at Usnarz Gorny. His stunt generated right-wing parodies on social media as well as statements of support. “Right now, the government controls the story,” he said. “We should have a strong response.”
There is no time to lose. At least five people, according to Polish officials, have already died. But Piotr Bystrianin, head of the Ocalenie Foundation, a Polish refugee charity that is trying to help people stuck at the border, told me the real number is unknown and probably higher. He cited the case of a 16-year-old boy from Iraq whose family called Ocalenie after being pushed back into the forest. At the time of contact, the boy was vomiting blood; in the morning, the organization learned that he was dead. As temperatures drop, Mr. Bystrianin said, many more may perish.
In his book “Strangers at Our Door,” written during the 2015-16 crisis, Zygmunt Bauman, a Polish sociologist and World War II veteran, argued that militarized borders are a misguided response to uninvited guests. The only solution to fear, he wrote, is to replace hostility with hospitality, showing forms of solidarity that recognize our interdependence as a species. Mr. Bauman, who died in 2017, did not live to see his hopes realized.
Instead, as more and more people displaced by armed conflict and climate change are turned away by the world’s richer nations, refugees are left to languish in Europe’s forests. Their fate feels like the dark premonition of a future that is already here.