Migrants in Belarus Allegedly Beaten by Military Guards, Won't Let Them Return Home

Migrants in the Białowieża forest on the border of Poland and Belarus alleged that Belarusian border officials won't let them back into the country so that they may return home and beat them with batons if they attempt to do so.

According to Al Jazeera, the migrants said that they were "trapped" in the less than two-mile-wide zone, which is being called an "exclusion zone" by Poland. The report said the migrants were being transported back to the zone by Polish officials after they sought entry into Poland, and then detailed stories of migrants who alleged they were beaten back by Belarusian officials after they attempted to return east.

"They hit us, my friend broke his nose, they took our money, they took our passports, they took everything," a Syrian migrant identified only as Yousef told Al Jazeera. "I just want to go to Syria. To the airport and home."

According to the report, Yousef and thousands of migrants and refugees were misled into believing that passage through the Belarus-Poland border offered a safe route to the EU.

"The EU, NATO and the US all accuse Belarus' authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, of orchestrating the crisis by encouraging the flow of migrants and refugees to enter the EU via its borders in retribution for EU sanctions imposed on the leader after his disputed re-election last year and his crackdown on mass pro-democracy protests," the Al Jazeera report said.

Though the Belarusian government has denied this, Polish officials claimed that Lukashenko conspired with Russian President Vladimir Putin to manufacture the crisis. "This attack which Lukashenko is conducting has its mastermind in Moscow, the mastermind is President Putin," said Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, according to the BBC.

The BBC report said European officials alleged that Belarus facilitated the migrants' arrivals into Belarus and then to the Polish border in order to manufacture a security crisis.

Belarusian border guards have allegedly beaten migrants who attempted to go back to Belarusian airports so they can return home. Here, a group of migrants stands in front of Belarusian servicemen as they gather for the distribution of humanitarian aid in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border in the Grodno region on November 14, 2021. Photo by OKSANA MANCHUK/BELTA/AFP via Getty Images

The EU has responded to the crisis by placing an additional round of sanctions on Belarus. The Biden administration announced that it also planned to implement sanctions against the Lukashenko regime, and the president said he has been in communication with the eastern European leaders working closest to the crisis.

"I think it's of great concern," Biden said. "We've communicated our concern to Russia, we've communicated our concern to Belarus. We think it's a problem."

In the meantime, migrants remain stuck in the exclusion zone, some without supplies. Yousef told Al Jazeera he has had to drink from rivers and eat things he could find on trees. A doctor who has treated those in the zone told Al Jazeera he has seen people with kidney issues, dehydration, hypothermia, and skin conditions from walking in wet shoes and clothes.

Al Jazeera reports that the wealthier individuals have been able to escape the zone by paying human smugglers. The poorest remain stuck there between Polish troops to the west and Belarusian troops to the east.

"They don't care if you live or die," Yousef told Al Jazeera. "They have no empathy."