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Lithuania Welcomes Belarusians as It Rebuffs Middle Easterners

RUKLA, Lithuania — The emigrants hitchhiked overnight to the Dysna River, the border of their native Belarus. They thought they could wade across the frigid waters, but the spot they chose in haste proved to be so deep they had to swim.

On the other side, at dawn two weeks ago, they found a house with a light on and asked for the police. They were fleeing the authoritarian regime of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, and seeking asylum in neighboring Lithuania, a member of the European Union. Taken to a makeshift camp at a border guard station, they joined about a dozen Iraqis, some Chechens and someone from Southeast Asia.

“We’ve been here for weeks, months,” a migrant told them, according to one of the Belarusians, Aleksandr Dobriyanik. “We know you’ll leave here in just a couple days.”

uprising against Mr. Lukashenko’s fraudulent 2020 re-election sparked a crackdown in which anyone who sympathized with the opposition is a potential target. It has approved 71 asylum requests from Belarusians this year. The U.S. State Department commended the country last week for “offering safe haven to many Belarusian democracy advocates,” including Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the opposition leader.

clashes with Polish police have made worldwide headlines.

Amid the crush of migration, the paths of Belarusians and other migrants intersect at holding facilities across Lithuania. At one migrant camp, a Syrian barber explained to his Belarusian tentmate that his family spent their life savings to get to Europe and now had “no way back.” Mr. Dobriyanik met men fleeing their native Chechnya region of Russia, who railed against President Vladimir V. Putin.

Lithuania, with a population of less than three million, has struggled to manage the thousands of new arrivals, and this month the government declared a state of emergency. Lithuanian leaders have called the migrants a “hybrid weapon” wielded by Mr. Lukashenko to “attack the democratic world.”

indefinite military service in Eritrea, then flew to Belarus as civil war flared in Ethiopia. The woman, who did not want her name used because she feared for her family in Eritrea, stayed in Belarus for months until she found a way to enter Lithuania.

“We came running from a dictator government,” she said, “and we were stuck in a dictator government.”

Tomas Dapkus contributed reporting.

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Migrant Crisis in Belarus Tests Putin’s Uneasy Alliance With Lukashenko

MOSCOW — As European governments threatened Belarus with deeper sanctions this week for fomenting the migration crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border, its bombastic leader countered with what sounded like a trump card: he could stop the flow of gas to the West.

There was just one problem: It wasn’t his gas to stop.

So on Friday, Russia — which sends much of its gas to Europe via Belarus — had to set the record straight for the Belarusian president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.

“Russia was, is and will remain a country that fulfills all of its obligations in supplying European customers with gas,” the spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin told reporters.

With thousands of migrants still stranded in the frigid cold on the edge of the European Union — encouraged by Belarus to go there but barred by Poland, an E.U. member, from crossing its border — the complex relationship between two allied autocrats looms large over the crisis. The mixed messaging over Russia’s natural gas exports was the latest sign that even as Mr. Putin continues to back Mr. Lukashenko, it is the Belarusian leader — a strongman who once ran a Soviet collective farm — who keeps raising the stakes.

the forced landing of a European passenger jet with a Belarusian dissident on board, Mr. Lukashenko seemed to have no choice but to bow to his Kremlin benefactors and to assent to deeper integration with them.

suggested they were ready to “start a conflict.”

several airlines on Friday said they were limiting flights to Belarus from the Middle East, where most of the migrants have traveled from. They include Turkish Airlines, one of the largest carriers to offer flights to Minsk, the Belarusian capital.

At the same time, aid groups described dire conditions for migrants huddled at the border, struggling against the cold and threats of violence. One Iraqi couple and a Syrian man were beaten and robbed, according to the activist coalition Grupa Granica.

The migration crisis comes amid the backdrop of rising tensions between Russia and Belarus’s southern neighbor, Ukraine — a onetime Russian ally that broke away in its pro-Western revolution in 2014. Ukraine’s turn looms large for Moscow, a cautionary tale that the Kremlin is determined not to repeat.

“Putin took Crimea, which is very good, but Putin lost Ukraine,” Mr. Markov, the pro-Kremlin analyst, said. “If he also loses Belarus, he will never be forgiven for it.”

Mr. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, and for years profited from the competition between Russia and the West for influence in his country, provoking deep frustration in Moscow. That game ended last year, when he declared a landslide re-election victory in a vote widely seen as fraudulent, leading the E.U. to impose sanctions that continue to rankle him.

With Mr. Lukashenko’s opponents seen as too pro-Western, the Kremlin backed him despite its reservations — saving Mr. Lukashenko’s regime but saddling Mr. Putin with an ever-more-erratic ally.

In Moscow, many expected the Kremlin’s backing to translate into tighter integration into a “union state” between Russia and Belarus that would have magnified Mr. Putin’s geopolitical sway. But those talks ended earlier this fall without an agreement on a common currency or legislature — signaling that Mr. Lukashenko was able to retain his independence.

Mr. Putin and Mr. Lukashenko, both in their late 60s, share a worldview focused on a two-faced, decadent West. Both have overseen harsh crackdowns on dissent in the last year. The 2020 uprising against Mr. Lukashenko in a neighboring, Russian-speaking country spooked the Kremlin, Russian analysts say, and helped prompt Mr. Putin’s decision to dismantle the movement of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny.

Mr. Lukashenko’s approach toward migration shows how he has sought to maneuver between Russia and the West. In 2018, he boasted that his country’s border guards were significantly reducing the trafficking of migrants and drugs into the European Union. In recent months, he has swerved the other way, with Western officials saying he has orchestrated a wave of migration through the Minsk airport toward his country’s borders, hoping to embarrass the E.U. into legitimizing him.

On the ground in Minsk, the human toll of that strategy is evident.

When large numbers of asylum seekers began arriving over the summer, a rights activist in Minsk said, they came as part of organized tour groups with reservations at the Yubileyny — a hotel complex operated by the presidential administration of the Republic of Belarus.

Now, they are starting to run out of money, Alena Chekhovich, the activist in Minsk, said in a telephone interview, with some forced to sleep on the street. Others relocated to hostels in the city center, even with expired visas — another sign, Ms. Chekhovich claimed, that the Belarusian government, which typically watches closely for migration violations, was exacerbating the crisis.

Ms. Chekhovich said many migrants who make it from Minsk to the border are basically marooned in makeshift camps there, monitored by Belarusian border guards who prevent them from returning.

“It’s sad that people are ending up in this situation simply because of the actions of the state,” she said.

Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting from Moscow, and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.

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Poland Gets Support From Europe on Tough Borders

BRUSSELS — The migration crisis of 2015, when millions of migrants and asylum seekers surged over Europe’s borders, nearly tore apart the European Union. Many members offered asylum to the refugees; others, like Poland and Hungary, wanted no part of it.

Six years later, the current standoff at the border of Poland and Belarus has echoes of that crisis, but this time, European officials insist that member states are united when it comes to defending Europe’s borders and that uncontrolled immigration is over.

What is different, the Europeans say, is that this crisis is entirely manufactured by the dictator of Belarus, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, as a response to sanctions that the Europeans imposed on his country in the face of a stolen election and a vicious repression of domestic dissent.

“This area between the Poland and Belarus borders is not a migration issue, but part of the aggression of Lukashenko toward Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with the aim to destabilize the E.U.,” Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs, said in an interview over the summer.

is withholding from Warsaw billions of dollars in funds intended to help economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet in an indication of how seriously Brussels takes the current standoff with Belarus, Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, visited Warsaw on Wednesday to meet with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland to offer solidarity — and even, perhaps, some border funds.

“Poland, which is facing a serious crisis, should enjoy solidarity and unity of the whole European Union,” Mr. Michel said. “It is a hybrid attack, a brutal attack, a violent attack and a shameful attack,” he added. “And in the wake of such measures, the only response is to act in a decisive manner, with unity, in line with our core values.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany called President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, urging him to push Belarus to stop its “inhuman and unacceptable” actions at the Polish border, her spokesman said.

Moscow supports Mr. Lukashenko with money and personnel. Unsurprisingly, the Kremlin said, Mr. Putin told Ms. Merkel that there was nothing he could do and that the European Union should deal directly with Mr. Lukashenko. Which is exactly what Brussels refuses to do.

But the position of Brussels is delicate, presenting the European Union with a three-pronged problem. It must show solidarity about protecting the borders of the bloc, sympathy about the humanitarian crisis unfolding there and firmness about defending the supremacy of European law.

The Europeans can hardly ignore the sight of innocent children, women and men, however manipulated they may have been, in freezing conditions, stuck between Polish border guards and troops and barbed wire, and Belarusian troops. The soldiers will not only prohibit them from returning to Minsk, the Belarusian capital where many are arriving before moving to the border, but are also actively helping them breach the Polish border.

At least 10 people have already died; other estimates are higher, but Poland has barred journalists and nongovernmental organizations from the border area.

In response, Brussels is contemplating a fifth round of sanctions, perhaps as early as Monday, aimed at Belarusian officials and at airlines that are flying migrants from the Middle East to Minsk. But few believe that new sanctions will move Mr. Lukashenko any more than previous ones have done, especially since his efforts are a response to the sanctions already in place.

“This is a very serious crisis for the European Union, not just for Poland,” said Piotr Buras, a Warsaw-based fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s a crisis of security, which could get much worse if Polish and Belarusian guards start shooting, and it’s a very serious humanitarian crisis, because Europe can’t accept people starving and freezing on the border.”

Given the nature of the crisis, Mr. Buras said, Brussels should separate it from the confrontation over the rule of law: “Whatever we may think about the Polish rule of law crisis, the E.U. must act in its own interest.”

But the Polish government, which no longer has a clear majority in Parliament, is itself politically stuck, Mr. Buras said. “The problem is not that the E.U. doesn’t want to help Poland because of the rule of law,” he added. “It’s the other way around — it’s very difficult for this Polish government to accept help from E.U. institutions that they are fighting on another front. And the government wants to present itself as the sole savior and defender of the Polish people.”

The European Union has offered Poland help with its own border guards, known as Frontex, significantly expanded since the 2015 crisis and based in Warsaw, said Camino Mortera-Martinez, a Brussels-based fellow of the Center for European Reform. And Brussels also has asylum support staff members who can help screen migrants to judge their qualifications for asylum.

But Poland has rejected both offers and insists on keeping the border area sealed. One reason is its fight with Brussels and its unwillingness to accept help. Warsaw also does not want the oversight of its actions that Frontex might provide, said Luigi Scazzieri, a research fellow in London who is also at the Center for European Reform.

Nor do Warsaw or Brussels want a screening procedure that will act as a “pull factor” to give Mr. Lukashenko and more migrants the hope that they can get into Europe this way.

“The concern on the government side, and this is why they’re so firm, is that if there is even a process to let people in, this will create a narrative that this is a place where people from Iraq and Syria can be processed into Europe, and the numbers won’t be 4,000, as now, but 30,000,” said Michal Baranowski, the director of the Warsaw office of the German Marshall Fund.

So policymakers are in a real conundrum for now, Mr. Scazzieri said. In the longer run, he suggested that sanctions against the airlines would reduce the numbers of migrants, and if the borders remained closed and were reinforced further, fewer would risk the journey.

And at some point, he said, Mr. Lukashenko “will understand that too many migrants in Belarus will create domestic problems.”

Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting from Brussels, and Anton Troianovski from Moscow.

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E.U. Blames Belarus for Migrant Crisis at Poland Border

Poland has massed thousands of troops on its border with Belarus to keep out Middle Eastern migrants who have set up camp there, as Western officials accuse Belarus’s leader of intentionally trying to create a new migrant crisis in Europe.

The standoff along the razor-wire fence separating the two countries has intensified a long-simmering confrontation between Belarus, a repressive former Soviet republic, and the European Union, which includes Poland.

Western officials say that President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus is allowing asylum seekers from the Middle East into his country by the thousands and then funneling them westward toward Poland and the E.U., and has escalated that strategy this week. They say he is retaliating against sanctions imposed after his disputed 2020 election victory.

The sharp increase in tensions has rattled European officials, with images of desperate migrants evoking the refugee crisis of 2015. The confrontation with Belarus, a close Russian ally, also raises new security concerns.

Amnesty International and the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights, have accused Poland of illegally pushing migrants who had crossed the border back into Belarusian territory.

warned the West: “We stopped drugs and migrants for you — now you’ll have to eat them and catch them yourselves.”

Until recently, migrants were scattered the length of the border, but now Belarusian authorities are collecting them at the Kuznica crossing, said Anna Alboth of the Minority Rights Group in Poland.

On Tuesday, Belarus’s border service released a video showing a tent camp squeezed into a narrow strip of land just a few yards from a line of Polish security forces in white helmets. The video showed a low-flying helicopter, military vehicles and a water cannon truck on the Polish side, and a thicket of tents and smoky bonfires on the Belarusian side.

video posted by the Polish Ministry of Defense on Monday showed a crowd of people trying to break down the razor wire border fence with long sticks.

sent financial aid to Turkey to do so in 2016.

“We see that the Belarusian specialists are working very responsibly,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, told reporters.

Polish officials said that in addition to those at the border, more than 10,000 migrants were elsewhere in Belarus, also hoping to get to the E.U. On Monday, Piotr Müller, a Polish government spokesman, said the country’s borders were “under attack in an organized manner.” A top security official, Maciej Wasik, said a “real battle” had taken place against people trying to enter Poland illegally near Kuznica.

The standoff comes at a particularly difficult moment in Poland’s relations with the E.U., and in the country’s domestic politics. The conservative Polish government’s longstanding feud with the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, over the independence of Poland’s judiciary escalated in recent weeks, and the commission has been withholding the payment of the country’s $41 billion share of the E.U. coronavirus fund.

At home, the Polish governing party, Law and Justice, has seized on the image of a nation besieged by migrants to parade its nationalist credentials and brand its critics as unpatriotic at a time of national crisis. Both the opposition and nationalist groups that support the government are scheduled to rally in the center of the capital on Thursday, Poland’s Independence Day.

Anton Troianovski reported from Moscow, Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, and Tolek Magdziarz from Warsaw. Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting from Moscow, Jane Arraf from Suleimaniya, Iraq, and Andrew Higgins from Cluj, Romania.

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The Body Collector of Spain: When Migrants Die at Sea, He Gets Them Home

ALGECIRAS, Spain — No one knew the man’s name when he washed ashore. His body had floated in the ocean for weeks, and it then sat much of the summer unidentified in a refrigerator in a Spanish morgue.

He was one among thousands lost at sea during what has been a record year for migrant drownings in Spain. And he might have been sent with the other unclaimed dead to an unmarked grave if Martín Zamora had not figured out that the body had a name, and a life.

He was Achraf Ameer, 27, a mechanic from Tangier. He had been missing for weeks when Mr. Zamora reached his family by WhatsApp. He had found their son’s body. He could bring it to them in Morocco, for a price.

“Sometimes, I get the feeling that some years ahead — in 30, 40, 50 years, I don’t know how many — they will look at us like monsters,” he said. “They’ll see us all as monsters because we just let people die this way.”

tracks the deaths. The International Organization for Migration, a United Nations body that keeps a more conservative count, has recorded more than 1,300 deaths so far this year.

Helena Maleno Garzón, who heads Caminando Fronteras, said Spain’s situation was especially perilous because it is the only European country with smuggling routes on both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. “These include some of the most dangerous routes which are now being used,” she said.

Dozens of boats have gone down this year near the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off West Africa.

Migrant boats also are tempted by the narrowness of the Gibraltar Strait, only nine miles wide in one section, despite strong currents that sink many boats. Some migrants drown only hours after leaving Africa, their bodies later washing ashore on beaches in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia.

The Spanish media sometimes carry stories about the latest bodies. Then, when the headlines recede, Mr. Zamora’s work begins.

The body is the mystery. The clothes are often the only clues.

“It can be hard to identify someone’s face,” Mr. Zamora said. “But a shoe, a jersey, a T-shirt — suddenly a family member will recognize it, because it once was a gift.”

His first clue came in 1999, when he found a note inside the clothes of a dead Moroccan man. Back then, the government was outsourcing to funeral homes the job of burying unclaimed remains in a field alongside the local cemetery.

Mr. Zamora was on call when that body and 15 others were discovered on the beaches. He brought the corpses back to his mortuary and discovered the damp note with a phone number in Spain.

He called and a man on the other end of the line claimed to know nothing. But a few days later, Mr. Zamora recalled, the same man called back and admitted he was the brother-in-law of the young man who had drowned.

“I told him, ‘I’ll make you a deal: I’ll charge you half the price to get the body home, but you have to help me look for the rest of the families,’” Mr. Zamora said.

The man agreed to guide him to the region in southeastern Morocco where his brother-in-law had lived. Mr. Zamora first took care of the body of the young man, embalming it and sending it back to Morocco. Then he got permission from a local judge to take the clothes of the other dead migrants to Morocco.

Mr. Zamora and the relative went from village to village, carrying a large rack on which they hung the clothes of the dead migrants, along with rings and other personal effects, which they took to markets where they knew people would go.

After two weeks they had identified the remaining 15 relatives and repatriated every body.

Mr. Zamora realized he had a solution to what had been seen as a lost cause in Spain. Yet it costs thousands of euros to repatriate the bodies. And the families that he was meeting had far less than he did.

“You find the family, you get the father and the mother, they take you to where they live and you see it’s a tin shack on the side of a mountain with two goats and a rooster, and they tell you they want their son back,” he said. “What do you do? Be a businessman or be sentimental?”

Mohammed El Mkaddem, an imam at the mosque in Algeciras which makes collections for the families of the dead, said he understood Mr. Zamora’s constraints. “In the end, they run a funeral home and it’s a business,” said the imam. “But they do what they can, and we’re thankful for it.”

José Manuel Castillo, the director of the city morgue in Algeciras, said Mr. Zamora filled a gap left by the authorities. “Someone has to take care of the paperwork and the repatriation of the bodies, and if it’s Martín Zamora, that is great,” he said.

Even in the heat of southern Spain, Mr. Zamora wears a tie and loafers, looking more like a lawyer than an undertaker. On a recent afternoon, he was working on a body with his son, Martín Jr., 17.

“They found him in his work clothes,” Martín Jr. said of the corpse. “Maybe he went straight from work into the boat.”

The boy wandered off for a moment, and Mr. Zamora began to speak, almost to himself. His son was 15 the first time they worked together, after a boat carrying 40 people capsized off the coast of Barbate, just north of Algeciras, leaving 22 dead.

He was afraid his son would have nightmares, but Martín Jr. wanted to work, he said.

“No father wants his son to see these things,” Mr. Zamora said. “But this is the world we live in.”

Just before the summer, Mr. Zamora said he received a WhatsApp message from a man who identified himself as Yusef and said he worked at a mosque in the city of La Linea, across the border from the Rock of Gibraltar.

“There were two boys we don’t know if they are alive or dead — surely they are dead,” began the voice message. “The family was looking everywhere and I said we would ask someone we know who is involved in this kind of thing.”

The next message contained a picture of three men in a dinghy with homemade life vests, taken moments before they left Morocco. One was Achraf Ameer, the illiterate mechanic from Tangier.

With that, Mr. Zamora contacted the local authorities, who had a body in the morgue. They gave Mr. Zamora photographs of the man’s clothes, and Mr. Zamora — helped by Yusef — located Mr. Ameer’s sister in Tangier and showed her a photo of the clothes. These days, Mr. Zamora rarely needs to make the trips to Morocco that he used to, making identifications from afar.

“The paint on his clothes was the paint he has on his clothes at work,” the sister, Soukaina Ameer, 28, said in a telephone interview from Tangier.

She said her brother had tried once before to cross into Spain, only to be deported. This time, he didn’t tell anyone but left cryptic hints when the family began making plans to move to a new home.

“He was always telling us: ‘I won’t be living with you in the new house,’” Ms. Ameer recalled.

He left on April 13, she said, his boat likely sinking the same night. His body floated in the sea for much of April before it came ashore around the end of the month. For the rest of the spring and part of the summer, it was placed in a morgue, where it deteriorated from not being frozen.

And so on a sweltering day, Mr. Zamora loaded Mr. Ameer’s body into his hearse and, with his son, drove past pines and sunflower fields. The body was wrapped in blankets from the Red Cross, which had found him. A hospital tag was affixed to one leg. At the mortuary, Mr. Zamora and his son arrived dressed in hazmat suits and began embalming.

Ten pumps from a long needle into Mr. Ameer’s shoulder. Another 10 into his chest. After an hour, Mr. Zamora wrapped the body in a shroud which he covered in a green cloak and sprinkled it with dried flowers, recreating a Muslim rite that an imam had once shown him. Then he shut the lid on the coffin and he and his son took off their hazmat suits. The two were covered in sweat.

Yet the work hardly felt finished. In the adjoining room sat stacks of case files, people whose bodies Mr. Zamora was still trying to locate after their relatives had gotten in touch with him. There was an Algerian man, born in 1986. There were two Moroccans who had been lost at sea; and a Syrian man, who once had a wife and lived in Aleppo.

And there was a ringing from the other room, and with it, another possible lead.

“Martín, go get my phone,” Mr. Zamora said to his son, taking off his gloves.

Aida Alami contributed reporting from Rabat, Morocco, and José Bautista from Madrid.

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Migrant at Poland-Belarus Border Faces a Wrenching Decision

ALONG THE EASTERN POLAND BORDER — The father had walked in circles in the rain-drenched Polish forest, cradling his sick daughter, delirious after three days with barely any food or water as temperatures dipped toward freezing. He was soaked, shivering and facing a terrible choice.

His daughter, 2, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He had wrapped her in a thin coat to protect her from the cold, and she needed urgent medical attention. The father, an Iraqi Kurd who gave his name as Karwan, had guided his family across the border from Belarus but was now in a forested area patrolled by Polish soldiers and border guards.

The choice for the father was pitiless: seeking medical help would mean a return to Belarus and the end of his family’s desperate journey to Europe.

“I can call for an ambulance for you, but border guards will come with it,” Piotr Bystrianin, a Polish activist who arrived to help, told the family, who said they wanted to request asylum in Poland. He had found them after hours of searching in the dark, alerted to their whereabouts by a locator pin sent by cellphone.

geopolitical fight between Belarus and Poland that has escalated into a man-made humanitarian disaster for Europe. At least five people who crossed illegally into Poland have died in recent weeks, some of hypothermia and exhaustion, according to Polish officials, and three nearly drowned in a Polish swamp.

Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus is using migrants to punish the European Union for imposing sanctions on him for cracking down hard after a disputed election last year. The migrants — some fleeing poverty in Africa and elsewhere and others escaping war in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq — are allowed to enter Belarus, and then encouraged to cross over into Poland, a member of the European Union, with hopes of dispersing across the region.

Poland’s right-wing government, determined to keep out refugees and economic migrants, has flooded the eastern border area with security agents, while keeping out prying eyes by declaring it an emergency exclusion zone off limits to all but residents.

in an interview that it was “harmful” for the government to suggest that “every refugee is a terrorist or a sex offender,” adding: “We cannot accept that people die in front of our eyes.”

In a detailed report, Amnesty International last week documented how Polish border guards had held 32 Afghan asylum seekers in “horrendous conditions for weeks” and then pushed them back over the border into Belarus in violation of international law. In a separate report, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights said that “Poland is conducting mass illegal pushbacks at its border with Belarus.”

Some officials are pushing back against the government’s policy. Poland’s deputy commissioner for human rights denounced the treatment of asylum seekers as a “scandal” that shows “the darkest possible image of Poland.”

sanctions on Belarus for forcing down a passenger jet carrying a Belarusian dissident. Mr. Lukashenko’s government initially steered the migrants toward Lithuania, but directed them south to the Polish border after Lithuania erected a fence.

Both Lithuania and Poland have reinforced their borders, laying coils of razor wire and fortifying existing barriers, borrowing anti-migrant methods pioneered by Hungary at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015.

The European Union, loath to see a repeat of that crisis and another surge of support for populist, anti-immigration politicians, has mostly supported the efforts of Poland and Lithuania to keep out people trying to enter from Belarus.

report on the briefing: “He raped a cow and wanted to get into Poland? Details on migrants at the border.”

But the picture turned out to be a still from a zoophilia pornography movie available on the internet, and involved a horse, not a cow.

Poland has taken in hundreds of asylum-seekers airlifted from Afghanistan since the Taliban took power in August but hostility to migrants sneaking across the border has been a constant feature of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party. In 2015, ahead of elections that brought it to power, its leader said they carried “all sorts of parasites and protozoa.”

Fundacja Ocalenie, waited patiently for the distraught family to make their decision.

Worried that his ailing daughter and others in the group might not survive, Karwan decided it would be best to seek medical help. Two ambulances arrived and, as he had been warned, border guards came, too.

Four family members were taken to the hospital, and six others to the border to be forced back into Belarus. Mr. Bystrianin and a fellow activist, Dorota Nowok, in the area to provide food and clothing, were fined for entering a restricted zone.

Monika Pronczuk contributed reporting from Brussels, and Anatol Magdziarz from Warsaw.

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Perilous, Roadless Jungle Becomes a Path of Desperate Hope

NECOCLÍ, Colombia — For decades, the Darién Gap, a roadless, lawless stretch of jungle linking South America to the north, was considered so dangerous that only a few thousand people a year were daring, or desperate, enough to try to cross it.

But the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic in South America was such that in the first nine months of this year, Panamanian officials say, an estimated 95,000 migrants, most of whom are Haitian, attempted the passage on their way to the United States.

They made the journey in shorts and flip-flops, their possessions stuffed in plastic bags, their babies in arms and their children by the hand. It’s uncertain how many made it — and how many didn’t. And yet tens of thousands more are gathered in Colombia, eager for their turn to try.

Del Rio and thrusting the Biden administration into a crisis, were just the leading edge of a much larger movement of migrants heading for the jungle and then the United States. People who had fled their troubled Caribbean nation for places as far south as Chile and Brazil began moving north months ago, hoping they would be welcomed by President Biden.

“We very well could be on the precipice of a historic displacement of people in the Americas toward the United States,” said Dan Restrepo, the former national security adviser for Latin America under President Barack Obama. “When one of the most impenetrable stretches of jungle in the world is no longer stopping people, it underscores that political borders, however enforced, won’t either.”

The Darién, also known as the Isthmus of Panama, is a narrow swath of land dividing the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Parts are so inaccessible that when engineers built the Pan-American Highway in the 1930s, linking Alaska to Argentina, only one section was left unfinished. That piece — 66 roadless miles of turbulent rivers, rugged mountains and venomous snakes — became known as the Darién Gap. Today, the journey through the gap is made more perilous by a criminal group and human traffickers who control the region, often extorting and sometimes sexually assaulting migrants.

a growing number of migrants had begun to brave the corridor, a journey that can take a week or more on foot. But after the pandemic, which hit South America particularly hard, that surge has become a flood of desperate families. At least one in five of those who crossed this year were children, Panamanian officials said.

As the number of migrants arriving at the U.S. border grew, the Biden administration retreated from a more open approach to migration embraced in the president’s first days in office to a tougher stance with a singular goal: deterring people from even attempting to enter the United States.

said in September. “Your journey will not succeed, and you will be endangering your life and your family’s lives.”

But the warning is unlikely to turn back the tens of thousands of Haitians who are already on the road.

On a recent day, there were about 20,000 migrants in Necoclí, in Colombia. And there are up to 30,000 Haitian migrants already in Mexico, according to a senior official in the Mexican foreign ministry who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“They’ve already started the journey, they’ve already started to think about the U.S.,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute. “It’s not that easy to turn that off.”

On a recent morning, Ms. Alix and Mr. Damier woke their children before dawn in the small home they’d been sharing with a dozen other migrants. Their turn had come to board the boat that would take them to the edge of the jungle.

In the darkness, Ms. Alix threw her backpack over her shoulders and strapped Vladensky to her chest. In one hand she carried a pot of spaghetti, meant to sustain them while it lasted. Her other hand reached out to her toddler, Farline.

On the beach the family joined a crowd of others. A dockworker handed a large life vest to Ms. Alix. She draped it over Farline’s small body and climbed into the boat. Aboard: 47 adults, 13 children, seven infants, all migrants.

“Goodbye!” yelled a man from the boat company. “Have a good trip!”

Government officials are largely absent from the Darién. The area is controlled by a criminal group known as the Clan del Golfo, whose members view migrants much as they view drugs: goods they can tax and control.

Once the migrants step off the boats, they are met by smugglers — typically poor men in the area who offer to take them into the jungle, starting at $250 a person. For an extra $10 they will carry a backpack. For another $30, a child.

Farline and her family spent the night in a tent at the edge of the jungle. In the morning, they set out before sunrise, alongside hundreds of others.

“I carry bags,” smugglers shouted. “I carry children!”

Soon, a vast plain became a towering forest. Farline clambered between trees, following her parents. Vladensky slept on his mother’s chest. Other children cried, the first to show signs of exhaustion.

As the group crossed river after river, tired adults began to abandon their bags. They clambered up and then down a steep, muddy slope, only to stare up at the next one. Faces that were hopeful, even excited, that morning went slack with exhaustion.

A woman in a leopard-print dress fainted. A crowd formed. A man gave her water. Then they all rose, picked up their bags and began to walk.

Today, after all, was just day one in the Darién, and they had a long journey ahead.

Julie Turkewitz reported from Necoclí, Colombia; Natalie Kitroeff from Mexico City; and Sofía Villamil from Necoclí and Bajo Chiquito, Panama. Oscar Lopez contributed reporting from Mexico City, and Mary Triny Zea from Panama City.

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Haiti Protests Mass U.S. Deportation of Migrants to Country in Crisis

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The first Haitians deported from a makeshift camp in Texas landed in their home country Sunday amid sweltering heat, anger and confusion, as Haitian officials beseeched the United States to stop the flights because the country is in crisis and cannot handle thousands of homeless deportees.

“We are here to say welcome, they can come back and stay in Haiti — but they are very agitated,” said the head of Haiti’s national migration office, Jean Negot Bonheur Delva. “They don’t accept the forced return.”

Mr. Bonheur Delva said the authorities expected that about 14,000 Haitians will be expelled from the United States over the coming three weeks.

An encampment of about that size has formed in the Texas border town of Del Rio in recent days as Haitian and other migrants crossed over the Rio Grande from Mexico. The Biden administration has said it is moving swiftly to deport them under a Trump-era pandemic order.

On Sunday alone, officials in Haiti were preparing for three flights of migrants to arrive in Port-au-Prince, the capital. After that, they expect six flights a day for three weeks, split between Port-au-Prince and the coastal city of Cap Haitien.

Beyond that, little was certain.

“The Haitian state is not really able to receive these deportees,” Mr. Bonheur Delva said.

The Haitian appeal for a suspension of deportations appeared likely to increase the pressure on the Biden administration, which is grappling with the highest level of border crossings in decades.

President Biden, who pledged a more humanitarian approach to immigration than his predecessor, has been taking tough measures to stop the influx, and the administration said this weekend that the Haitian deportations are consistent with that enforcement policy.

But the migrants are being sent back to a country still reeling from a series of overlapping crises, including the assassination of its president in July and an earthquake in August. Only once since 2014 has the United States deported more than 1,000 people to the country.

As the sun beat down Sunday in Port-au-Prince, more than 300 of the newly returned migrants milled close together around a white tent, looking dazed and exhausted as they waited to be processed — and despondent at finding themselves back at Square 1. Some held babies as toddlers ran around playing. Some of the children were crying.

Many said their only hope was to once again follow the long, arduous road of migration.

“I’m not going to stay in Haiti,” said Elène Jean-Baptiste, 28, who traveled with her 3-year-old son, Steshanley Sylvain, who was born in Chile and has a Chilean passport, and her husband, Stevenson Sylvain.

Like Ms. Jean-Baptiste, many had fled Haiti years ago, in the years after the country was devastated by an earlier earthquake, in 2010. Most had headed to South America, hoping to find jobs and rebuild a life in countries like Chile and Brazil.

Recently, facing economic turmoil and discrimination in South America and hearing that it might be easier to cross into the United States under the Biden administration, they decided to make the trek north.

From Mexico, they crossed the Rio Grande into the United States — only to find themselves detained and returned to a country that is mired in a deep political and humanitarian crisis.

In July, the Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated, setting off a battle for power. A month later, the impoverished southern peninsula was devastated by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake, and the Caribbean nation’s shaky government was ill-equipped to handle the aftermath.

According to a United Nations report released last week, 800,000 people have been affected by the quake. A month after it struck, 650,000 still need emergency humanitarian assistance.

Many of the migrants who stepped off the plane Sunday have little to return to.

Claire Bazille left home in 2015, and had a job cleaning office buildings in Chile’s capital, Santiago. It wasn’t the dream life she had left Haiti to find, but she got by, even sending money home to her mother each month.

When Ms. Bazille heard that it was possible to enter the United States under the Biden administration, she left everything behind and headed north, joining other Haitians along the way.

On Sunday, she was put on a plane and returned to where it had all begun for her.

Only now, Ms. Bazille’s family’s home in Les Cayes had been destroyed in the earthquake. Her mother and six siblings are living in the streets, she said, and she is alone with a small child, a backpack with all their belongings, and no prospect of a job.

“I don’t know how I will survive,” said Ms. Bazille, 35. “It was the worst decision I could have taken. This is where I ended up. This is not where I was going.”

At least a dozen of the migrants said they felt tricked by the United States. They said they had been told by uniformed officials that the flight they were getting on was bound for Florida. When they learned otherwise, some protested but were placed on board in handcuffs, they said.

“I didn’t want to come back,” said Kendy Louis, 34, who had been living in Chile but decided to head to the United States when construction work dried up. He was traveling with his wife and 2-year-old son, and was among those who were handcuffed during the flight, he said.

The director of migration and integration at the Haitian office of migration, Amelie Dormévil, said several of the returnees told her they had been cuffed by the wrists, ankles and waist during the flight.

After the first plane carrying the deportees landed, the first to climb out were parents with babies in their arms and toddlers by the hand. Other men and women followed with little luggage, save perhaps for a little food or some personal belongings.

Amid confusion and shouting, the Haitians were led for processing at the makeshift tent, which had been set up by the International Organization for Migration.

Some expressed dismay at finding themselves back in a place they had worked so hard to escape — and with so few resources to receive them.

“Do we have a country?” asked one woman. “They’ve killed the president. We don’t have a country. Look at the state of this country!”

Haitian officials gave them little cause to think otherwise.

Mr. Bonheur Delva said “ongoing security issues” made the prospect of resettling thousands of new arrivals hard to imagine. Haiti, he said, cannot provide adequate security or food for the returnees.

And then there is the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I am asking for a humanitarian moratorium,” Mr. Bonheur Delva said. “The situation is very difficult.”

After the earthquake in August, which killed more than 2,000 people, the Biden administration paused its deportations to Haiti. But it changed course last week when the rush of Haitian migrants crossed into Texas from the border state of Coahuila, Mexico, huddling under a bridge in Del Rio and further straining the United States’ overwhelmed migration system.

The deportations have left Haiti’s new government scrambling.

“Will we have all those logistics?” Mr. Bonheur Delva said. “Will we have enough to feed these people?”

On Sunday, after being processed, the migrants were given Styrofoam containers with a meal of rice and beans. The government planned to give them the equivalent of $100.

After that, said Mr. Bonheur Delva, it will be up to them to find their own way.

Natalie Kitroeff contributed reporting from Mexico City.

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Afghans Flee to Pakistan. An Uncertain Future Awaits.

TORKHAM, Pakistan — The Taliban, thankfully, didn’t figure out Mohammad was a police officer.

Mohammad, 55, had worked for years in Laghman Province east of Kabul, where chasing militants was part of the job. Then the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan. They killed his boss. Mohammad figured he and his family were next.

“We left Afghanistan mainly to protect our lives,” said Mohammad, who insisted on being identified only by his first name to protect his extended family from reprisals. On Aug. 16, he, his wife and their five children reached Spin Boldak, a town on the Afghanistan side of the border, before crossing to Chaman on the Pakistan side. To get there, they navigated watchful Taliban and paid Pakistan security forces $900 in bribes.

“On the highway, Taliban fighters were stopping and searching travelers,” said Mohammad. “But, luckily, they did not recognize me because, maybe, I was a low-ranked cop.”

The Pakistan authorities are watching worriedly to see whether more refugees like Mohammad and his family come pouring over the border. The government is expecting as many as 700,000 at a potential cost of $2.2 billion as the authorities set up camps and ways to track and feed them.

the United Nations, though experts say hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants live there, too.

The migration issue has at times added tension along the border. Already, on Wednesday Pakistan’s military fired artillery rounds over the border, citing firing from Afghanistan that killed five soldiers — the latest in long-running hostilities as Pakistan forces target suspected insurgents hiding on the other side.

Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, Pakistan’s powerful intelligence chief, listed terrorism and refugees among Pakistan’s top concerns at a meeting with Taliban leaders in Kabul over the weekend, according to Fawad Chaudhry, the Pakistani information minister.

1,600-mile border fence in recent years.

At Torkham, the dusty border crossing about 140 miles east of Kabul, the Pakistani authorities appeared to be keeping the flow of refugees under strict control. Only small groups of people crossed the border, where only Pakistan citizens and Afghans with visas are allowed to cross. Hundreds of empty container trucks sat idle on the Pakistan side, evidence of a sharp drop in trade because of the war.

raided by law enforcement, with young men rounded up, detained or beaten en masse, rights groups say.

their origin story and their record as rulers.

“Harassment and exploitation on the part of law enforcement agencies is a product of underlying perceptions of Afghans as violent, dangerous and suspicious,” said Zoha Waseem, a sociology professor at the University of Warwick and an expert on policing. “Refugees are therefore viewed with suspicion and seen as an alleged threat to the security of the nation-state. This makes an entire community, including refugee children, at risk of state harassment.”

Human Rights Watch. The group warned that the move risked adding to a population of hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan rendered essentially homeless by poverty and conflict.

The Taliban’s vengeful ways add to the risks. While the country’s new leaders have tried to strike a moderate tone, reports of reprisals against former members of the security forces and other Taliban opponents have trickled out of the country.

“I have no plans to go back to the Taliban’s Afghanistan,” said Khan, once a journalist in Kabul. He wanted to be identified only by his surname to protect his wife and two children, who remain in the Afghan capital.

Anticipating a Taliban victory by October, Khan had planned to get passports for his wife and two children to move to Pakistan. Kabul’s sudden fall last month spoiled those plans.

“Taliban has a list of journalists who were critical of the movement in their reporting,” said Mr. Khan, who had a visa to enter Pakistan, “and I am sure I am among them.”

In Camp Jadeed, a makeshift home for Afghan refugees on Karachi’s outskirts, residents said they had no plans to go back despite the temporary nature of their surroundings.

“With Taliban’s recapturing, a new era of uncertainty and fear starts in Afghanistan,” said Jan Ali, an Afghan in his 60s who arrived in Pakistan in 1980 and makes a living selling secondhand carpets.

He has seen arrivals from decades of conflict. “But the only good thing, this time,” he said, “is that bloodshed was avoided to gain Kabul’s throne.”

Salman Masood contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.

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