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One-year-old Syrian child found dead as migrants ‘used as pawns’ on Poland-Belarus border

The Belarus government has been accused of weaponising migrants to take revenge on the EU

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Friday 19 November 2021 08:12 GMT
File: A migrant sits in front of a fire in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border
File: A migrant sits in front of a fire in a camp near the Belarusian-Polish border (BELTA/AFP/Getty)

A one-year-old child from Syria has died in a forest in Poland near the Belarus border, becoming the youngest victim of the latest episode of the migrant crisis in eastern Europe.

The Polish Emergency Medical Team (PCPM), a nonprofit that operates in disaster zones, said the child was the son of a Syrian couple whom they had assisted on Thursday.

The nonprofit said in a tweet in Polish that they received a report after 2.26am that at least one person in the forest needed medical attention, but when they reached the spot, they found three people had been injured.

“They had been in the forest for 1.5 months,” the nonprofit said.

A young man suffering from severe abdominal pain and a Syrian couple needed help, according to the nonprofit. “The man had a lacerated wound to his arm, and the woman had a stab wound to her lower leg. Their one-year-old child died in the forest,” PCPM said.

Amid the ongoing humanitarian crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border, at least 13 people have reportedly died in a short period of time.

A local Muslim community in Bohoniki in northeast Poland arranged a funeral for an unnamed migrant thought to have travelled from Africa. Earlier on Monday, the community buried a 19-year-old Syrian man who had drowned in a Polish river last month while trying to cross into the European Union from Belarus.

“It is hard. It pains me that people went to another country... and met such a fate in here Poland,” Maciej Szczesnowicz, a leader of the local Tatar Muslim community, told Reuters.

Several migrants from the Middle East and mostly from Syria and Iraq are seeking to flee to Europe with the aspiration of having better lives. This has led to a surge in the number of migrants trying to enter the EU through Polish territory.

President Alexander Lukashenko and his regime have been accused of encouraging illegal migration across its border into Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in a bid to seek revenge from the EU for sanctions.

All three countries are reinforcing their frontiers and beefing border security, which has led to a crisis.

The EU has hit Belarus with several bouts of economic sanctions, accusing president Alexander Lukashenko of violating the rights of citizens, imposing crackdowns and stealing the country's elections.

Poland began building a barbed-wire fence along its border with Belarus in August to stop the crossings. The Polish government has been accused of treating asylum seekers inhumanly and pushing back Middle Eastern migrants.

Meanwhile, the US issued a stern warning to Belarus for its alleged attempt to “weaponise migration”.

“This effort to weaponise migration has to stop. First and foremost, it is doing a terrible injustice to these people that it has victimised by making them pawns,” US secretary of state Antony Blinken said.

“We have in place authorities to, as necessary, add to sanctions,” he added.

In September, Warsaw accused Moscow and Minsk of engaging in “hybrid warfare” by orchestrating a wave of illegal immigration. However, Russian president Vladimir Putin denied allegations of being involved despite sending nuclear-capable strategic bombers and paratroopers to patrol over Belarus.

“I want everyone to know that we have nothing to do with it. Everyone is trying to impose any responsibility on us for any reason and for no reason at all,” Mr Putin said in an interview with state television.

On Thursday, Belarus authorities cleared the main make-shift camps where over 1,000 migrants had gathered to cross over to Poland. Hundreds of Iraqis, who failed to cross the border, were returned to Iraq on planes from the Minsk airport.

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