30 października 2021

Palestinians: „They told us: either Poland, or death here.” Yazidis: „We were wasting away in a camp for 7 years”

They’re escaping their countries because they have no homes, work, or normal life there. Often, they also have no family there: they died in wars, were massacred, or emigrated. All that awaits them there is death and despair. In Western countries, they see future, jobs, and hope. 

Publikujemy angielską wersję tekstu, który ukazał się w OKO.press:

Tekst przetłumaczyła pro bono nasza czytelniczka, mieszkająca w USA, która chce pozostać anonimowa. „Nie oczekuję niczego w zamian – traktuję to jako możliwość pomocy osobom na granicy” – napisała.

Nasz tłumaczka dodała od siebie wyjaśnienia w kwadratowych nawiasach, jak pisze, dla większego zrozumienia angielskiego czy amerykańskiego czytelnika. Czasem to parę słów, a czasem całe zdanie wyjaśniające.

Bardzo doceniamy włożony wysiłek i dziękujemy w imieniu czytelników.

It’s a very late evening on a Saturday when I find my way to a group of 13 Yazidis. They are sleeping, hidden in the undergrowth, already outside the emergency zone. They didn’t want to meet for a long time because they were scared. They’re on their way to Germany and France. They only agree to meet us when the darkness falls, making them feel safer.

“Watch where you’re going, they’re lying here,” says the person who is guiding me. It’s a full moon tonight, making it rather bright, and the grove is not thick so one can see outlines of people lying on the ground under the trees. It hasn’t rained today; it hasn’t rained for several days so it's dry. They’re lucky.

They’ve had even better luck today. They had some food with them, but it ran out. They were spotted in the bushes by a farmer: a Pole, a kind Pole named Anatol. He didn’t report them to the border patrol, which many here do.

Right away, he sent someone to get provisions, he gave them food, helped them get warm with a warm meal and tea. He bought them warm clothes for the journey. The men cried from joy and gratitude, literally.

We’re sitting in a grove that’s a couple hundred yards from the nearest home, more than half a mile from the village. The village is half-deserted: there is no one on the gravel road, and lights are lit only in some of the houses. Nevertheless, we’re whispering. Husain, a 24-year-old who speaks English, asks me to maximally reduce the brightness of my smartphone screen. This is how scared they are.

Three miles away, the border guards were looking for immigrants by combing through the undergrowth with a gigantic search light. About half a mile from the village I heard military vehicles. On my way to Narewka [a village in eastern Poland, located in Hajnówka County, Podlaskie Voivodeship] I passed by military troops running along the forest and looking for someone, searching the area with flashlights. I was stopped by a border patrol driving through only a quarter of an hour after my meeting with the Yazidis. That night, I was stopped for an inspection four times. Those pursuing the Yazidis are very close, and so the refugee’s extreme caution is understandable.

Despair

“We get four or five hours of sleep like this, and then we go. Because of this we don’t get cold at night, we’re warmed up,” Husain shares his solution to the biggest deadly threat to immigrants on the Poland-Belarus border: the cold. This also explains why they say they’ve been on the go for 11 nights, not days.

They come from the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, from the Sinjar District, where most members of the persecuted religious minority live. They all come from the same village, they’re neighbors and cousins.

In August of 2014, ISIS started to massacre the Yazidis. They predominantly killed men and older women, while younger ones were raped, used as sex slaves, and forced into marriage. Children were also enslaved.

Husain’s father and brother were kidnapped by ISIS militants. The people from the village ran away and were placed in refugee camps. Husain’s family moved to France, but he, then a teenager, stayed. He wanted to find his father and brother.

The conditions at the refugee camp were awful. Rows and rows of tents, the one where Husain stayed was occupied by 11 people. Everyone was squeezed together, and there were no regular jobs available. From time to time, one could earn some money by helping a farmer or performing some small jobs in the area. This hopelessness has its consequences: according to reports of organizations supporting the Yazidis, a wave of suicides swept the refugee camps.

Husain has never found his brother or father. After 7 years, he was still holding on to his hope when his mother told him: “let it go.” He chose to go West. They flew from Baghdad to Damascus, and from there to Minsk. They did not use a smuggler; they don’t have the money for that.

Husain’s story is interrupted by Facebook messages between him and Murad Ismael. This [contact] means a lot to them: Murad Ismael, who lives in the US, is the president of the Sinjar Academy, an organization supporting people in Nineveh Governorate in northern Iraq, inhabited mostly by Yazidis. He’s also a co-founder of Nadia’s Initiative, a non-profit organization led by Nadia Murad, a Yazidi activist formerly enslaved by ISIS who is a Nobel Peace Laureate.

Ever since the Yazidis started suffering from hunger and pain on the Polish-Belarussian border, Murad has been appealing to the Polish government and the EU to admit the Yazidis, a religious minority persecuted in their own country, for humanitarian reasons, and to not let them perish like this. His appeals remain unanswered.

However, Ismael’s appeals were noticed by journalists, and he’s been helping them contact his fellow countrymen stuck at the border.

“He’s a very important person for them. Even when he writes a simple ‘hello,’ they draw great encouragement from it,” whispers Asia Klimowicz, a journalist from “GW” [Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish daily newspaper], who likely is the leading journalist in Poland covering the refugee crisis at the border.

She’s already met Yazidi refugees in Poland together with Agnieszka Sadowska, a press photographer from “GW”, the author of the famous photographs of “children from Michałowo” [on September 27th, 2021, a group of migrants, including small children, were photographed at a Border Guard station in Michałowo; journalists later established that the group was subsequently transported toward the Poland-Belarus border and left in the no-man’s land between Poland and Belarus].

In this group, there are three girls (ages 10, 13, and 15), a 13-year-old boy, and three women. While Husain’s goal is to reach France, the rest want to go to Germany to reunite with their families that are already there. The biggest community of Yazidis outside of Iraq can be found west of the Poland-Germany border [in Germany]. The German government runs many programs for women and children who lived through the nightmare of being enslaved by ISIS.

Lucky

The Polish Border Guard pushed back this group of Yazidis four times. One of them, Noas, had his phone, food, and three packets of cigarettes taken from his backpack by a Polish border guard. Having a smartphone and some food is a matter of life and death on the border: without a cell phone, severely chilled migrants won’t be able to call for help.

I inquire whether he is sure that it was a Polish, not a Belarussian border patrol.

“Yes, Poles take away our phones sometimes. Belarussian border guards have never taken anything away from us,” Husain confirms.

Reports that Polish border guards are stealing or destroying the refugees’ phones have been made before. On OKO.press we showed pictures of phones with destroyed ports, preventing them from charging.

But stealing is the worst thing that has happened to them. They’re lucky again.

None of them has been beaten up, no one shot bullets at their feet or in the air to scare them. Nobody set police dogs on them. And no one in their group is sick, although they do have corns and calluses.

Today, the activists dressed their chaffed feet. That’s another reason to feel lucky.

For Husain, his feet are his only complaint. He’s just got new, dry shoes. Even though we’re in a dark wilderness and there is no certainty as to what can happen to them tonight, he’s pleased. He’s got such a bright smile, honest and joyful, that doesn’t leave his face.

I ask: “Are you happy?”

“I am. I’m feeling well and I’m on my way to France. It’s going to be much safer there than in Iraq, and life there is better than in a refugee camp. And I will meet my family. All of them, 10 people altogether,” he explains. In Iraq, he studied business administration at the University of Zakho. When he arrives in France, he wants to rest after this journey first, then learn the language and maybe continue his studies. One of the activists makes plans with him to meet at the Eiffel Tower.

I keep my fingers crossed that he and the rest make it; that they don’t run into the border patrol, who treat them worse than prisoners of war; that they are not beaten up by Belarussian officers; that dogs are not set on them. That they are not denied medical assistance if they lose consciousness or get hypothermia. That they are not the next John or Jane Doe’s found somewhere in the undergrowth along the border or in the Polish corn field. I keep my fingers crossed.

Poland or death

Two days later, near Hajnówka [a town in eastern Poland, Podlaskie voivodeship]. Four Palestinians are hiding in a wet, swampy hole.

They’re young, around 30. This is the first time I see refugees from that country, and the activists also say they’ve never met them before, although they’ve heard about them. The refugees are eating warm meals provided by the young [activists]. They were also given sweets and warm sleeping bags preventing them from freezing to death at night.

“There’s a war in Palestine. They bomb us every day. Every day. Even at night. We have no homes, we don’t have a country. We don’t have jobs, we don’t have electricity. Actually, we don’t have anything. Why should we stay there then?” asks Ali from the Gaza strip. He speaks some English.

Ali lost his uncle in the 2018 bombings, Abdali lost his cousin, and Fahid lost his brother. Only another Ali, the tall one, hasn’t lost anyone [to war], but his father has recently died. Each of them lost some of their friends in the war. Each one.

None of them had a steady job. Sometimes an odd job came along. Then they worked all day, for about $5. This is what they lived off of because they had to. “Our government only employs their people, families, and friends,” says Ali.

These odd jobs are not enough to support oneself, not to mention a family. This is why Fahid, who has two little children (a one- and a three-year-old) and a wife, had to emigrate. “We had no choice,” Ali says.

They went through Egypt. They did not take sleeping bags, sleeping pads, or bigger backpacks; they were not prepared for a longer journey. They had no knowledge of the issues on the [Poland-Belarus] border, of the back-and-forth game played by the border guards, or of the Polish pushbacks.

A friend who managed to go through without any problems said that it’s easy. But they have been on the go for 8 days already. The Poles pushed them back four times. The guards’ rifles were pointed at them, but they did not beat them up or take away their phones, which is known to happen to some refugees.

In Belarus, Belarussian border patrol forced them into Poland. They threatened them and set dogs on them. At night, they didn’t get cold because they slept next to the campfire. They lay very close to the fire: Ali shows me holes burned out in his trousers by the embers.

Chilled, soaked, and tired, after another pushback they’ve decided to go back to Minsk and buy gear necessary for the journey. The Belarussians did not let them, and two of them were beaten up. “Very badly,” says Ali. Abdali shows gashes on his face, and explains with gestures that they were kicking him in the head. Fahid also got beaten up. He shows with his hand that they put a gun to his head. “They told us: either Poland, or death here,” adds Ali. They chose Poland, because again they had no choice.

Today is the first time they managed to get this far: we are 12 miles from the border. It makes them happy.

“We want to go to a country where we’ll have a home, electricity, jobs, and safety,” Ali explains. They’re on their way to Berlin, to one of their friends.

Throughout our conversation, I can see fear in their somber eyes. It disappears when I wish them good luck, and when I add that I’ll drop by in Berlin to get some kebab or falafel together.

They invite me, and they bid farewell with hands over their hearts.

Udostępnij:

Krzysztof Boczek

Ślązak, z pierwszego wykształcenia górnik, potem geograf, fotoreporter, szkoleniowiec, a przede wszystkim dziennikarz, od początku piszący o podróżach i rozwoju, a od kilkunastu lat głównie o służbie zdrowia i mediach. Zaczynał w Gazecie Wyborczej w Katowicach, potem autor w kilkudziesięciu tytułach, od lat stały współpracownik PRESS, SENS, Służba Zdrowia. W tym zawodzie ceni niezależność.

Komentarze

Komentarze będą wkrótce dostępne