During a three-day intervention in Puszcza Augustowska, a harsh forest terrain between Poland, Belarus and Lithuania, Grupa Granica (GG) met a group of Syrian refugees - Ibrahim, Farah, Hamid, Nafi, Samir and Zahi - who agreed to share their stories.
Jarmiła Rybicka of GG reported that, all men were in poor physical condition and seriously injured after being attacked by the Belarusian border guards. They were beaten, electrocuted, and forced through a freezing cold river. Ibrahim’s rib was fractured and was coughing up blood. Their phones were destroyed and their money taken away. For some, this was the 7th time they were pushed back across the border after trying to enter Poland.
In Syria, one of them, Farah, was physiotherapist. There was also a driver, a student, a salesman, a logistician and volunteers of Red Cross amongst them. As a reminder of the war, one of the men has a shrapnel still embedded in his body. Hamid, Zahi and Samir experienced threats and torture. Nafi lost two of his brothers.
All of them mutually expressed that the only thing they want is safety and a new life for themselves and their families. Farah wishes to use her medical knowledge to help people in Poland, while Hamid wishes to become a volunteer himself once he is granted asylum.
GG provided the men with the essentials - shoes, dry clothes, hats, gloves, sleeping bags, hot tea, soup as well as medicine since Farah suffers from asthma and two other men were running a fever - before leaving the forest together. “Near the border crossing, one of the men panicked, saying he’d prefer imprisonment in Syria over being returned to Belarus. He was ready to run back to the forest.” recounts Rybicka.
“I’d rather die than be sent to Belarus”, stated Farah.
Ibrahim, Farah, Hamid, Nafi, Samir and Zahi crossed the Polish border with the volunteers, requested asylum and are currently held at one of the Border Patrol institutions.To the volunteers' knowledge, while their journey from Damascus to Minsk was well documented in their personal statements, the authorities omitted any accounts of what happened to them during their time at the border.