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Asia and Senian are sisters. Both are about 30 years old and have already been through some terrible things. After crossing the Belarusian border, they were wandering around in the Polish forests for 10 days, completely lost.

-The girls barely ate or drank anything. They were dehydrated and freezing cold- said the activists associated with Grupa Granica (Border Group), who found and helped them. Both women were in serious condition. On Monday evening (October 25), they were taken to a hospital in Bielsk Podlaski.

One is suffering from arthritis - probably from the long hike. The other one is illiterate, can only write down her name, does not know her date of birth, and did not go to school. They told the hospital staff about the persecution they suffered in Iraq. Both of them declare they are willing to apply for international protection in Poland. The girls constantly ask about their mother. They lost her in the forest, together with a sister and two brothers.

From a hospital, directly to a migration processing center

On Wednesday (October 27), everyone was suddenly seized with fear when border guard officers came for the Yazidi sisters around noon.

- At this point, they are not in a life-threatening condition. The patients were issued a prescription and further treatment needs to be continued on an outpatient basis- said Arsalan Azzaddin, deputy director for medical affairs at Bielsk Podlaski County Hospital. - The border guard officers who came here promised me that they will not drop the girls over the border, but take them to a migration processing center. I don't know if this is true. I don't trust anyone anymore. We see so many terrible things every day...

Dr. Azzaddin is himself Kurdish but says that his recommendations would be just the same for any other patient, a refugee or not.

Dwie młode Jezydki zabierane przez Straż Graniczną ze szpitala w Bielsku PodlaskimDwie młode Jezydki zabierane przez Straż Graniczną ze szpitala w Bielsku Podlaskim Fot. Grupa Granica

Poland legalizes pushbacks

Medical workers from Bielsk Podlaski witness similarly dramatic situations every single day. They see individual refugees, but also families with children, whom they want to help medically but also feel compassion for. Like the one refugee family who was robbed and beaten by Belarusian border guard officers. Before discharge, all patients ask only one question: "Where are they taking us? To the forest again?"

The doctors say they have no influence over the legal aspects governing the stay of migrants and refugees, but they are critical of the approach of the border guards: - In any normal, civilized country, a patient who is already on national territory and is being treated in a hospital cannot be taken out of it and taken the forest.

In Poland, it is not the case. A newly enacted law, which came into force on Tuesday (October 26), allows for such inhumane treatment. The Parliament passed it on September 17, and on October 14 it reviewed amendments proposed by the Senate.

It rejected an amendment stating that "if the decision on leaving the territory of the Republic of Poland concerns a foreigner with a child who crossed the border in violation of the law, filing a complaint suspends the execution of the deportation decision". It means that the Parliament agreed to deport foreigners who have crossed the border unlawfully, including those with children. The law in such a form was signed by President Andrzej Duda. Now, border guard officers can cite a specific law when deporting potential asylum seekers.

According to legal experts, the Commissioner for Human Rights, UNHCR, and international organizations, the act is incompatible with the Polish constitution and international law.

Transported to a migration processing center

However, sometimes – albeit very rarely - it happens that border guards place people found in the forest in migration centers and initiate administrative procedures provided for by international law. It happens purely by chance. The presence of cameras and interventions of MPs definitely helps.

In the case of the hospitalized Yazidi sisters, there was some hope.

Shortly before 3:00 p.m., Krystyna Jakimik-Jarosz from the regional branch of the Border Guard issued a statement: - They are currently in the foreigners' registration center in Połowce. They are waiting for the arrival of an interpreter. They will go through a background check and the legality of their stay will be assessed.

- Is there a chance to initiate an asylum procedure? – we ask.

- Yes, if they declare that they want international protection in Poland - admits Krystyna Jakimik-Jarosz.

On Wednesday evening, she confirmed that the Yazidi sisters are still in Połowce, and will surely not be thrown out of the facility overnight.

Enslaved by ISIS

We know about the dramatic situation of Yazidi women and girls thanks to the work of, among others, Nadia Murad, an Iraqi social activist who together with Denis Mukwege was awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize "for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict."

Nadia Murad is from Kuja near Sinjar in northern Iraq, a region inhabited by Yazidis - followers of an ancient religion that Muslim fundamentalists consider heresy. In August 2014, after ISIS attacked the region, Nadia was kidnapped. She was imprisoned by the militants and held as their sex slave for three months. This has been the fate of some 7,000 Yazidi women. Eventually, Nadia managed to escape, and in 2015 she settled with her sister in Germany, enjoying the protection of the country's services. She lost her mother and six brothers in Iraq.

In December 2015, she told her story publicly for the first time to the UN Security Council. Since then, she has traveled the world raising awareness of the situation of civilians in the areas fighting ISIS, and worked to help refugees from those areas. To this day, she continues to receive threats from the so-called Islamic State.

Dwie młode Jezydki zabierane przez Straż Graniczną ze szpitala w Bielsku PodlaskimDwie młode Jezydki zabierane przez Straż Graniczną ze szpitala w Bielsku Podlaskim Fot. Grupa Granica


Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.

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