reporter Central and Eastern Europe
In a chapel near the Polish border with Belarus, a man with a ukulele sings to a small group. Behind him is a box. Next door, the family of the deceased listens.
But the woman mourned here is not Polish. Livine Njengoue, 44, is from Cameroon. She drowned in a river a few miles away while trying to cross the border. Her parents, a brother and a sister have received visas to say goodbye to her in Poland.
In the forests here, according to activists, at least forty people have died during the crossing. Another 300 people are missing. Human remains are sometimes not found until months later.
While all eyes are on the Mediterranean Sea, the humanitarian crisis on the border with Belarus also lingers. And now that it’s spring, the number of migrants trying to cross is rapidly increasing again.
“You can’t remain indifferent,” says Dariusz Szuba. He came from the city of Bialystok to attend Njengoue’s funeral and recited two poems. Szuba has attended funerals of migrants on several occasions. “What is happening here at the border is terrible and inhumane.”
Polish border fence of hundreds of kilometers
Two years ago, Belarus began flying in refugees and forcing them across the borders of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia to harass the EU. Images of barbed wire and disturbances between the police and desperate migrants went around the world.
Poland has built a fence hundreds of kilometers along the border. The army is deployed to guard roads. People caught are sent back to Belarus. That was more than 130 on Tuesday, according to figures from the Polish border guard.
Belarusian President Lukashenko’s charter flights seem to have stopped flying, but the route is still popular. Migrants think it is safer than via the Mediterranean Sea and fly to Russia and then travel overland to the border.
Migrants on the border between Belarus and Poland are helped by volunteers. Christiaan Paauwe, a reporter from Central and Eastern Europe, joined the tour.
Once in the border area, they get caught between Belarusian border guards who violently force them further towards the fence and Polish authorities on the other side. A month ago, a Syrian man died after falling off the fence.
“Belarusian soldiers show migrants where to cross and force them across the border,” said Alexandra Chrzanowska of Grupa Granica, an organization that helps migrants. “They get a kick to get over the fence and are told: you can either cross or die in the woods.” That violent behavior is also confirmed by migrants with whom the NOS has spoken.
Why Njengoue decided to undertake the dangerous journey is not clear. The family does not want to talk to journalists. Szuba thinks it’s nice that the relatives of Poland have received visas to be there. This is usually not the case with other funerals. “But the fact that her family is now in Poland for this is also a paradox.”
- Polish border guards stop hundreds of migrants every week at the Belarus border
- Biden chooses Warsaw as the stage for a new speech and that is no coincidence
- Belarus remains a threat to Ukraine: ‘Don’t spare Lukashenko’