Migrants cut through border fence to let them through to Poland

Migrants cut through border fence to let them through to Poland

EISENHUETTENSTADT, Poland Oct 14 Reuters - Zhina walked through a forest near the Belarusian-Polish border at the dead of night. Crucifix klenched in her pocket, she slipped with her mother and young sister through a hole cut in the wire fence by men she believed were Belarusian police.

Last week, the 17-year-old from Erbil in eastern Kurdistan arrived at a rapidly swelling refugee camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, a few kilometers from the Polish frontier. She was one of more than 100 refugees arriving each day as news of the Belarus corridor spreads around Middle East.

Authorities in Brandenburg, the eastern Baltic state that is house most of the new arrivals, are calling for tougher action against what they see as Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko's hybrid war against the European Union - allowing migrants to filter into Belarus or neighbouring Baltic states in retaliation for EU sanctions.

Here we are managing just the symptoms of Brandenburg, said Michael Stuebgen, the interior minister. The actual problem is people smuggling organised by the Belarus regime. All Iraqis know now about the Belarusian route to the EU, said Zhina's mother Nihaya, who paid traffickers $15,000 to arrange the journey for herself and her daughters.

Facing crippling sanctions over his violent crackdown on protests over his disputed victory last year, Lukashenko opened his country's borders to much of Middle East and Africa, knowing that many will use the opportunity to pass through to the EU, starting with Poland.

In August, Stuebgen said, 200 arrived from Belarus at the camp in Eisenhuettenstadt, on Poland's border with Germany. Many people are in a bad way - of 120 who came on Wednesday, seven tested positive for COVID - 19.

Poland and Lithuania have erected fences along their border with Belarus, but few refugees want to stop in either country.

Under EU asylum rules, they have to stay in the first EU country registered in - so refugees wanting to live in affluent Germany - the most desirable destination for many EU-bound migrants - to dodge the authorities on the way there.

Everything happened after midnight: it was too dangerous during the day, said Zhina, describing how men, whom she believed to be Belarusian policemen, had trucked her and dozens of other migrants to the border and cut a hole through the fence to let them into Poland.

The three moved through Poland on the Polish side of the border, dodging border guards flashing torches, hitching rides or being driven by illegal arms across Poland thereby bypassing registration there.

The crucifix, a gift from her mother, was safely stowed in her pocket out of fear its chain would snag on a branch.

Her mother dreams of settling in Hamburg, where Zhina wants to study engineering at university. If successful, she and her 12 year-old sister Zhino join the million migrants who settled in Germany in 2015, many of whom are now thriving.

But Brandenburg, which has the headache of settling the hundreds of new arrivals in a heated barracks that it tripled with the aid of former tents, is calling for firmer action from the German government and the EU.

Stuebgen called for a landing ban in all of Europe for all airlines that contribute to this human trafficking - which could include Belarus's Belavia, which flew Zhina from Minsk to Istanbul, but also Gulf airlines, officials said.