Sokolka, Poland When visitors approach the borders of Poland and Belarus, they often – as this reporter did – receive a simple and clear text message on their cell phone.
“Poland’s borders are sealed. BLR officials have told you lies. Go back to Minsk!” SMS is readable, referring to Belarus.
The letter also included a warning not to take any “pills” from Belarusian troops, citing unsubstantiated reports that Belarusian border guards had given people pills that could include methadone to “survive” dangerous crossings across the border.
The message has been sent to thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons who have tried to cross the border into Poland from Belarus in recent weeks, people who are said to be being used as weapons in months-long conflict between West and Russia – according to Minsk.
The crisis has intensified this week as hundreds of people head to the border with events that some say are similar to those that began in 2015 for European refugees.
Poland has responded by tightening its borders to curb impending numbers from Belarus, with Warsaw and allies attacking the leadership of President Alexander Lukashenko – and Russian President Vladimir Putin – urging people to take a dangerous trip to Central Europe.
According to them, Minsk is retaliating, attempting to disrupt Europe in retaliation for Western sanctions against Belarus after last year’s by-elections that gave Lukasjenko a sixth term – and a subsequent breach of protest.
The growing controversy has attracted leaders from all EU countries, NATO and the United States.
In September, Poland launched an emergency operation on the border with Belarus.
Journalists and aid workers are barred from entering the area, which is 3km (about 2 miles) from Belarus and covers 200 dormant villages and settlements. Only those who can prove that they are local citizens can cross one of the many established roadblocks.
On the road near the Polish-Kuznica-Belarus border, a group of Polish border guards dressed in fluorescent clothing stopped to check on any vehicle passing in any direction.
Says one guard: “There are some restrictions. “You have to turn around.”
He shakes his head to emphasize the point – no one can go to the border where thousands of people have gathered, hoping to seek refuge in the European Union.
At some border crossings, security guards stop another vehicle and check the boot before turning the driver in the back.
It is hot and cold in the quiet town of Sokolka.
Police cars and military vehicles patrol the streets with Polish flags to celebrate Poland’s Independence Day on November 11th.
A 15-minute walk, a humanitarian crisis is taking place on the Polish-Belarusian wire fences as troops, including families with small children, are trapped in a geopolitical war on the EU border.
This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russia – Belarus’ main ally – to intervene as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen raised the issue during a meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington, DC.
“We need to protect our democracies in this kind of game,” he told reporters at the White House.
European Council President Charles Michel proposed Wednesday for the first time that the EU could legally pay for border crossings, violating the old tradition of refusing to allow EU officials to provide any kind of funding on border walls.
Meanwhile, as political tensions escalate without a sign of resolution, refugees are faced with the daunting prospect of a cold winter night. risk hunger and hypothermia.
Crystal van Leuwen, medical officer for Poland / Belarus / Lithuania program Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF), which has groups on both sides of the border, told Al Jazeera that the group had failed to reach. banned areas in Poland despite repeated requests.
Some of the MSF victims spoke of the violence in the hands of EU border guards, said van Leuwen.
“People have described in their own words that they are being beaten and beaten on the ribs,” he said.
“Someone reported that he had been electrocuted, and the injuries that Taser looked like were about to be removed. We have also helped people with dehydration and hypothermia, as well as neurological disorders, as well as those who have tried to commit suicide because they do not know how to cope with the situation. ”
At the time of writing, EU officials had not yet responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.
Van Leuwen said the current issue of so-called walking equipment was disrupted by the ongoing medical crisis.
“These are people, these are individuals and seeking protection is not a crime. They have the right to do the right thing and to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Van Leuwen added that in contrast to reports showing that especially young people, unmarried men at the border, their groups met people of all ages, including families, pregnant women and children.