Thursday, May 19

Families mourn the young migrants who died on the border between Belarus and Poland

The body of a young Syrian migrant who drowned while trying to cross a river on the Belarusian-Polish border was buried on Monday.

The 19-year-old Ahmad Al Hasan’s burial took place in a cemetery run by Poland’s small Muslim community, in the presence of a handful of witnesses. After a prayer in a wooden mosque in the village of Bohoniki.

Ahmad’s family was able to participate remotely, via the phone of a Syrian doctor who has lived in the region for years.

The teenager hoped to continue the studies he had started at a refugee center in Jordan, said Kasim Shady, speaking on behalf of his family in Homs, devastated by the Syrian war that lasted a decade.

The leader of the local Muslim community, Maciej Szczesnowicz, said that Ahmad Al Hasan was “a human being … a Muslim, a young man” for whom it was essential “to give a burial worthy of the name.”

Szczesnowicz said the teenager, one of 11 migrants who have died since the beginning of the crisis, died while trying to cross the Bug, the river that runs along the Polish-Belarusian border.

Thousands of miles away, the body of another young man who died at the border arrived at Irbil airport in his native Iraq early Monday morning.

Gaylan Delir Ismael, a 25-year-old from the Kurdistan region, had been trying to reach Germany in hopes of starting a new life and receiving treatment for his chronic illnesses. He seized the opportunity when he heard that other Iraqis were heading to Europe via an easily obtained tourist visa from Belarus.

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He also died in a dark and humid forest near the Belarusian-Polish border. The circumstances of the confrontation on the border that led to Gaylan’s death, which occurred before the recent concentration of Polish troops, are unclear.

Gaylan’s coffin was taken away, along with that of another Iraqi on the same flight. Kurdo Khalid’s family say he died on October 31 of a brain hemorrhage at the border.

“It is truly a sad tragedy. I urge young people here not to emigrate from Kurdistan, ”said Bilal Khalid, who received his brother’s body at the airport.

On Monday, large groups of migrants sat behind barbed wire fences on the Belarusian side of the border with Poland as a tense migration clash between Warsaw, Minsk and the European Union continued.

The EU is calling for humanitarian aid as up to 4,000 men, women and children are trapped in makeshift camps in freezing weather in Belarus, while Poland has reinforced its border with 15,000 soldiers, as well as border guards and police.

Meanwhile, Lithuanian officials said they were seeing a growing number of attempts by immigrants to cross their border from Belarus.

EU Foreign Ministers have expanded the scope of sanctions against the regime in Belarus to add airlines, travel agents and others accused of helping bring migrants to Minsk.

Brussels says the country’s controversial president, Alexander Lukashenko, has for months invited migrants to the Belarusian capital of Minsk, many of them Iraqis, Afghans and Syrians, with the promise of helping them cross the border.

Lukashenko spoke by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday, the first such call between the Belarusian autocrat and an EU leader since the brutal crackdown that faced massive protests in the wake of the 2020 presidential elections, almost universally seen as rigged.

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The two leaders spoke “in particular of the need for humanitarian aid for refugees and migrants” at the border, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said. They agreed to continue discussing the issue, he added.

Belarusian state news agency Belta said the call lasted 50 minutes, without giving further details.

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