The Iraqi Kurdish doctor is helping to treat desperate migrants trapped at the Belarusian border

Aafter 39 years in Poland the last few weeks have been some of the most difficult in Dr Arsalan Azzaddin’s career.

Head of the emergency department of the Bielsk Podlaski hospital, the doctor treated dozens of people who crossed the treacherous border between Belarus and Poland and walked through frozen forests in the hope of seeking asylum in the European Union.

“They are usually in a very bad condition, dehydration and hypothermia for the most part. Many had bruises on their body which they said were from the Belarusian limpolice,” he said The Independent. “It was a real tragedy for me. I cry whenever I see these people. ”

Dr. Azzaddin is originally from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan – a part of the world from where many of the migrants now trapped on the frozen European border are from.

“When I open my mouth and speak their language, they ask me to help them. But I can only deal with them and then return them to the Polish border police. I must tell them, “The law is the law,” he added.

After treatment the majority of migrants are captured by the Polish authorities and returned across the border to Belarus where they are stranded in no country while the two countries engage in a tense confrontation at the meeting point of their two nations.

Since more than 2,000 people were taken by Belarusian police to the Polish border on Monday, the situation on the EU’s eastern front has deteriorated rapidly. Unable to travel back to the capital of Belarus and stopped from entering Poland, these people are effectively captured.

This year about 8,000 migrants entered the EU from Belarus, and border guards prevented some 28,000 attempts at transition, according to figures from the European Commission.

Migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere warm up at the fire collection at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno


Warsaw called the situation “a new kind of war in which people are used as human shields”.

Minsk has denied directing the mass movement of people in retaliation for EU sanctions after the country’s powerhouse Alexander Lukashenko held false elections last August and suppressed subsequent opposition protests.

The crisis has attracted regional powers and also taken on new militarized dimensions after Moscow sent two Tu-22M3 bombers to patrol Belarusian airspace on Wednesday. The move has sparked alarm across the region with Estonian Defense Minister Kalle Laanet saying the potential for escalation is “extremely high”.

Germany has called on Russia – which denies being the mastermind behind the crisis – to intervene, and the European Union is considering imposing further sanctions on Belarus’s Alexander Lukashenko, who has threatened Western Europe’s gas supply.

It was a real tragedy for me. I find myself coming to tears whenever I see these people

Dr. Arsalan Azaddin

The military rhetoric, however, does not change the situation for people trapped in the midst of these twisted geopolitical maneuvers.

Temperatures are rapidly approaching below zero and winter snow is just around the corner. Many of the migrants are dressed in summer clothes and sleep in tents ill-equipped to withstand the sharp cold. Reports circulated that a 14-year-old child died on the Belarusian side after being subjected to the freezing climate.

There are currently more than 2,000 migrants on the border between Poland and Belarus


To enter Poland, most people have to make their way through the dense wet forest that separates the two countries. Activists are spreading along the border, evading the authorities in the hope of reaching migrants first and offering them first aid, food and asylum papers.

“Locals or the people themselves contact us first, then we go to find them,” says Anna Chmielewska, an activist.

“What’s happening now is that a lot of people who are near Kuźnica, where they were directed on Monday, are starting to spread so we never know what their location will be.”

A state of emergency has been imposed along Poland’s border with Belarus, with no journalists, NGOs or activists allowed to witness the situation with their own eyes. The Central European state is determined to deal with the crisis on its own terms and has so far not taken any assistance from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, which is based in Warsaw.

It has also pressed for Brussels ’support for its tough migration policies, which include building an EU-funded wall to reduce the movement of people.

“These people have nothing, and they beg me not to send them back to Belarus,” says Dr. Azzadin. “One man with diabetes was introduced to me about two weeks ago. He had not eaten for ten days and his life was in danger. He said he was asked to pay $ 14 for a slice of bread before he left Belarus. All this was very difficult for me to see. Everyone should help with these people. No one should be left in a frozen forest. ”

People gather near a fire to warm themselves


A psychologist at a hospital in the regional capital, Białystok, shares Dr. Azaddin’s views on the treatment of migrants. “The border police have access to psychological treatment, but not the people who had to crawl through the forest to get here,” they said. The Independent does not name the practitioner at their request for fear of retaliation from the Polish authorities.

“Currently I have a 22-year-old man who was admitted with a burnt esophagus and gastrointestinal problems on October He came in without shoes, without a phone and without papers and none of my colleagues told me. I think it’s fair to say … nobody really cared about him and his situation. ”

They added that two guards are continuously with the patient despite him applying for asylum and no information has been released to the medical team about where he will be transferred to the next one.

With tension rising on the border, there is broad support across the region for the Polish government’s hard access to the crisis.

In Sokółka, a sleepy town of about 10,000 people, there is concern that each break would result in a rapid influx into people.

“This government does not represent me and my beliefs and I am very ashamed of what is happening and the support for it,” says Chmielewska, the activist, “Poland is a very homogeneous society and I guess a lot of people are just afraid of others. ”

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