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While daytime temperatures are still on the plus side and occasional ground frost occurs only at night, weather forecasters predict that it will soon get significantly colder, with overnight temperatures regularly falling below zero degrees Celsius. For people trapped between Poland and Belarus who are hiding in the woods to avoid roundups and deportations, sometimes for weeks on end, it means deadly danger.  

Human drama on the border 

Local residents living in the area covered by the state of emergency and activists outside of it are doing what they can to help the stranded migrants. They bring them warm soup, tea, thermal blankets, sleeping bags, medicine, and first aid supplies to help them survive a few more hours in the forest.

- These people are victims of the ongoing situation and should be taken care of. They need to be provided with humanitarian and medical aid- says Iwo Łoś, an activist from Grupa Granica (the Border Group). – Because of the escalating crisis at the border, which is a result of the increasing brutality of the Belarusian services and the denial of a right to asylum by the Polish authorities, these people found themselves in an impossible situation. They are utterly desperate. There are now reports in foreign social media of larger groups of migrants on the Belarusian side, suggesting that they may attempt to cross the border in the near future. It is important to keep in mind the human, individual dimension of this dramatic situation. If there are more attempts to cross the border, we should remember that these people have found themselves in a trap- the activist emphasized.

Videos posted on social media show just how dramatic the situation is. The one below shows the brutal treatment of a mother with a group of children in the Białowieża forest- it's not clear whether the people are being pushed back or prevented from crossing the border. Either way, the woman is pushed through a barbed wire while terrified children are screaming.

Human rights organizations warn of escalating violence

On Sunday (November 7), the Border Group - an alliance of various human rights organizations and independent activists- issued an appeal to both Polish and international institutions and organizations urging them to take immediate action to ensure the de-escalation of violence and the admission of humanitarian aid organizations to the border area.

We publish the appeal in full:

"There are reports on social media about larger than usual groups of male and female migrants who may attempt to cross the Polish-Belarusian border in the coming hours or days. It appears that the people are desperate because of the impossible situation they have found themselves in as a result of the deepening crisis at the border, caused by the increasing brutality of Belarusian services and the denial of their right to safe asylum by Polish authorities. Some of these people have for a long time been unsuccessfully trying to return to their country of origin, but border authorities on both sides are preventing them from doing it.

Given the events on the Polish-Belarusian border unfolding over the past few months, it is highly likely that Belarusian authorities will seek to escalate the violence, which in turn could trigger a violent response from the Polish side and result in the suffering of vulnerable people, including children, the elderly, and the sick.

Meanwhile, no humanitarian or medical aid organizations have been allowed near the Polish-Belarusian border and local hospitals have not received any additional support.

Therefore, we want to draw your attention to the need for your organizations and institutions to monitor the situation, to send independent observers, and to make urgent efforts to influence the Polish government to immediately send medical and humanitarian assistance to the border in case the violence escalates".

The appeal was signed by members of the Border Group (Grupa Granica): Stowarzyszenie Nomada, Stowarzyszenie Interwencji Prawnej, Stowarzyszenie Homo Faber, Polskie Forum Migracyjne, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Salam Lab, Dom Otwarty, Centrum Pomocy Prawnej im. Haliny Nieć, CHLEBEM I SOLĄ, uchodźcy.info, RATS Agency, Kuchnia Konfliktu, Przystanek „Świetlica" for refugee children, and independent activists.

It is addressed to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Commissioner for Children's Rights, Representative Office of the European Commission in Poland, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Frontex, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, European Ombudsman.

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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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