Poland: Concerns grow for missing four-year-old refugee girl

The child went missing on Monday night after her parents, who are from Iraq, were allegedly pushed back to Belarus by Polish authorities.

Thousands of refugees have attempted to cross into Europe from Belarus amid a diplomatic row between the West and Minsk [File: Kacper Pempel/Reuters]

Krakow, Poland – Concerns are growing in Poland over a four-year-old girl who went missing after her parents were allegedly pushed to Belarus by border guards.

For days, activists in the European Union country have been desperately searching for Eileen, who went missing on Monday night near the border with Belarus.

Hours earlier, her parents, who are from Iraq, crossed the frontier under the cover of the night with a group of other migrants and refugees.

They were exhausted, so they asked one of their companions to carry their daughter in his arms.

Suddenly, a Polish border guard patrol appeared and the group dispersed. Eileen’s parents were allegedly pushed back by Polish authorities, but there was no sign of their daughter.

When the officers shoved them to the barbed-wire fence at the border, the couple informed them that Eileen was missing.

According to their testimony, the guards did not react to the news.

Grupa Granica, a coalition of 14 NGOs which has been providing humanitarian assistance at the border, heard about the case of Eileen as it has a hotline for refugees in distress.

It alerted the Polish Red Cross, which is tasked with reuniting separated families.

But their calls proved futile.

“[The Polish Red Cross] replied that the parents should file a request in [the Belarusian capital] Minsk,” said Marysia Zlonkiewicz, an activist with Grupa Granica.

“We also informed the ombudsman’s office as we knew that they would inform the border guard.”

Polish border guards on patrol at the Kuznica-Bruzgi checkpoint on the Polish-Belarusian border amid the refugee crisis, in Kuznica, Poland, on December 6, 2021 [Kacper Pempel/Reuters]

The border guard soon launched a search operation, but ended their efforts only a few hours later, without success.

“No children were found in the area monitored by the Border Guard,” the Polish Border Guard tweeted. “During the night, the border, and especially the sections where attempts of illegal crossings were recorded, were patrolled both on the ground and from the air using [night and thermal vision technology].”

Residents noticed helicopters and an increased movement of border guard officers in the area, but critics have said the efforts were not enough.

Disturbed by Eileen’s disappearance, activists and residents have been organising their own searches – in temperatures that have sunk to as low as -15 Celsius (5 Fahrenheit)

But since the border area continues to be restricted for people who do not live there, including journalists and NGOs, the chances of finding the girl alive are falling by the hour.

“It is inhumane. A child is missing, it’s -12 degrees Celsius and people who are ready to search for Eileen are not allowed to operate in the area where she most likely can be found,” Zlonkiewicz said.

At the time of publishing, the Polish Border Guard had not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

“The parents are devastated and they only want to find their daughter. The authorities should immediately start a professional search mission,” Zlonkiewicz said.

“This situation only shows how necessary the interventions by volunteers and NGOs are. We come into the picture whenever state actions are insufficient. Now the life of a child is at stake.”

Since the crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border began in August, thousands of migrants and refugees have been wandering through Polish woods with little or no access to clean water, food and shelter.

Poland and its Western allies hold Belarus responsible for the deteriorating situation, claiming that Minsk is trying to destabilise Europe.

Earlier this year, Belarus removed visas for citizens of several Middle Eastern and African states and opened numerous tourist agencies offering an easy and cheap way to get to Europe.

Critics say the move might be a Belarusian act of revenge against Poland, which supported last year’s protests against longtime President Alexander Lukashenko.

While the numbers of people attempting to cross into the European Union from Minsk have fallen from a recent peak, a lasting resolution appears distant.

Source: Al Jazeera