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Jesus in the pines
Zuza Nazaruk
09 April 2024
published in Issue Five
Jezus umarł w Polsce
Mikołaj Grynberg

Agora, 2023

Refugees and border guards in the Białowieża Forest. Scenes of violence play out behind a thick cover of trees, in a remote corner of Poland.

I spot Amir walking along the forest road. It’s an airless, hot August morning and he’s wearing rubber rain boots, jeans and a long-sleeve shirt, and carries only a big Coca-Cola bottle with water. My companion and I are returning to the car after bringing food and water to nine Afghani and Iraqi men hiding in the Białowieża Forest. We walk behind Amir so we can’t see his face. He doesn’t know we’re there. He walks funny, wobbling to the sides, and I think that I just can’t take anyone in this area for a migrant. Perhaps he’s drunk. It wouldn’t be that unusual in the Polish countryside at 10am. 

My doubts disappear when Amir runs into the forest at the sight of an approaching car. Orderly rows of artificially planted pines make him painfully visible from the road. We run after him. He falls to the ground, shaking and crying. « Kill me, please », is the first thing he tells us. « No police, please. Kill me but no police. » We ensure him we’re not calling the police and try to calm him down. He’s 23 and from Iraq. He looks like a minor and is really skinny. He hasn’t eaten for four days and keeps crying with his head buried in his elbow, lying on the ground. All he has is his clothes and some water. No phone, no travel companions.

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Identifying features have been changed.

Since 2023, migrants also arrive via Moscow. There are no border checks between Russia and Belarus, and the visa is the same.

Called « little young bulls » in anti-migration slurs.

Border Guard, Straż Graniczna, is a collective term for the institution. When non-capitalised, it refers to the institution’s employees, border guards.

It is notoriously difficult to find any reliable numbers on this migration crisis. I specifically worded the 70.000 statistic as « attempts to cross ». This doesn’t translate neatly into the number of people crossing, as within this number, some of the migrants could have been crossing several times, inflating the statistic. The Border Guard, of course, doesn’t keep track of successful crossings, as those are the ones that go under their radar.

Between September 2021 and July 2022, only inhabitants could enter regions bordering Belarus. No journalists or NGOs were allowed to enter the zone.

The Polish word wywózka, rather blandly translated into English as « transportation », carries a historical weight: during World War II, « transportations » to concentration camps (wywózka do obozu) took place; after the War, during the Communist regime, the phrase « transporta tion to Siberia » (wywózka na Sybir) expressed forced relocations to Siberia.

The government’s hypocrisy of presenting migrants crossing the Belarusian border as Russia-backed threats to national security was laid bare in September 2023, when it came to light that between 2021 and 2023, Polish consulates in Africa and Southeast Asia issued 250.000 350.000 Schengen work visas in return for bribes. These were mostly for people coming from the same countries as those at the Belarussian border. A vast majority of the visa receivers left Poland for Western Europe.

In the run-up to the 2023 elections, an anonymous group distributed a pamphlet in the border area, titled Your Referendum Voice. The cover depicted a raft filled to its edges with dark-skinned men, with the heading « This is already an invasion. They are sailing here! Say NO to the inflow of illegal migrants to POLAND! Decide in the referendum! » One is left to wonder if the rafts are sup posed to arrive via the inland Baltic sea. 

She chose the pseudonym after, she claims, several mi grants whom she hosted in her house called her « mother ».

Migrants, understandably, often don’t distinguish be tween different forces but it’s the border guards who are responsible for pushbacks and most violence associated with them. The army or police hand over the people they f ind in the forest to the border guards.

Behind the wire = za druty; meaning pushback into Bela rus. Barbed wire preceded the border fence, and that is now part of the fence infrastructure.