20 June is World Refugee Day. The UN established it over twenty years ago to honour the courage and strength of people who have chosen to fight for a better life. They chose, or were forced to.
Today, the Polish Ombudsman published a report on the situation of refugees in Poland. He spoke of violations of the law, of torture, of lack of access to information, of lengthy detention of innocent people, of scandalous conditions in guarded centres. About the violence of the border guards, policemen and soldiers on the border.
Thousands of people are currently being held in closed guarded centres for foreigners in Poland. The Polish courts are throwing them into these centres with a light hand, although they could do otherwise. There are open centres, there are procedures and legal tools, there are better options. But – no. Two square metres per person in detention centres is, according to Polish services and officials, enough space to live.
Since February, all the attention of Poland and the world has been directed in one direction only. To the East, the very near East. We have forgotten what is further.
Meanwhile, for almost a year now, a stream of tens of thousands of people has been flowing across the Polish-Belarusian border. The route through Moscow or Minsk, and then through the Białowieża Forest and Podlasie swamps, is still a safer way to a better life. Still deadly, but safer. Today we know of 20 people who died on this way. However, given the choice of crossing the Mediterranean or marching through Podlasie, they obviously choose the land route.
Why they come ‘illegally’? Because the ‘legal’ way is closed.
There are no longer any European embassies in Afghanistan. Kurds, Syrians and Iraqis are not granted visas to Europe, even though they would sign in blood their certificates of innocence, guarantees of hard work and school diplomas.
Officials are stamping out further ‘extensions’, locking people up for months in monstrous detention centres isolated from the world. Nine months’ detention with 20 other people in a room? Why not. Another three months behind a double wall and a barred window? There you go.
Since the beginning of the migrant crisis in Poland, there has been one revolt in a guarded centre. It was immediately put down, and no one has dared to do it again. Instead, there have been hunger strikes. The last one lasted a month. The protesting Kurds did not win anything, they lost their strength, they were put on drips. The previous strike lasted 10 days.
Why do my friends have sunken bellies today, why did they have to go on hunger strike to be heard?
Where did they come from and why did they come here, someone will ask. So I ask: do you remember Aleppo? Do you remember Homs? Sure, you do not have to. That was far away and long ago.
But the victims of that war are already here, with us. With the trauma of war, with PTSD, with depression and all the baggage they brought in their heads from the Middle East.
This baggage got even heavier on the way here. Here they experienced beating up on the border, cold, starvation.
M. says that he likes being in the forest, even a lot. He loves nature and being close to it.
Everything would be fine if it were not for the soldiers who were tracking them. They were so afraid of them that they would not light fires for five days. In December, in frosty region of Podlachia.
H., on the other hand, did not like being in the forest. He was afraid of animal noises, afraid of soldiers, afraid of nights in the bushes. He speaks four languages. An educated, opposition-minded man, he is not made for such survival experience.
N. has been locked up in detention for months. He has no idea when he will get out or what he is in for, he sends out more letters and requests to which no one answers. Does he need anything? Nothing, just freedom. He’ll get a razor on request, so that’s fine. He fled Iraq, thinking everything would be fine.
The story of S. is similar. He spent 7 months in a guarded centre in Wędrzyn. Such adventure! S., however, is already safe. He reached his family in Germany.
The Polish Ombudsman raises the alarm once again about suicide attempts, self-harm and more hunger strikes, about children deprived of their right to education.
At the same time, our white hearts are generously opening for other white victims.
The Polin Museum together with the ELNET Poland Foundation are organising an open meeting entitled Trauma and PTSD caused by warfare – support for refugees from Ukraine. Not a word about the people from the Polish-Belarusian border, although we have plenty of them here and their traumas are equally powerful. No help for them Never mind their black Arab traumas, their distant wars.
This division can be seen from the beginning, at every turn. This division is called racism, and although in Europe we have long since agreed that it is ugly, we are still terribly ugly.
And I do not invite to discussion.