In Poland, a Syrian fights for life after falling off border wall
Like many refugees before him, Mohammad fled Belarus on April 7, but a tragic accident has left him in a medically induced coma.
A Syrian national is fighting for his life in a Polish hospital, having fallen from a border wall in his attempt to flee Belarus and find safety elsewhere in Europe.
Mohammad, who is now in a medically induced coma in Białystok, eastern Poland, was injured and hospitalised on April 7 after tumbling off the five-metre (16-foot) high, 186km (115-mile) long wall erected last year by Polish authorities.
Abdul, Mohammad’s brother, told Al Jazeera that his sibling broke his legs during the fall, causing wounds that appear to have become infected, leading to potentially fatal complications.
He fears one leg may be amputated to stop the infection from spreading.
The doctor treating Mohammad has prepared Abdul, who travelled from Cyprus to be by his brother’s bedside, for the worst.
“I don’t think we have a chance,” Abdul told Al Jazeera by phone, his voice cracking with emotion. “He could die today or tomorrow.”
Mohammad, 58, lost everything in the Syrian civil war, including his home and two farms, said Abdul, who suspects he was mistreated by authorities because a relative was a journalist.
Like other Syrian nationals, he escaped to Belarus and hoped to eventually reach a more stable European country.
Abdul said he was not aware that his brother intended to make the dangerous journey yet, however, and has since discovered that Mohammad paid around $14,000 to be brought to the border.
“All that money, and for what!” Abdul told Al Jazeera. “I just want my brother’s wife, who is in Lebanon, to be able to see him one last time. I feel very, very sad for her; I don’t know what to say to her”.
The Polish Embassy to Syria, which is currently located in neighbouring Lebanon, did not comment on whether Mohammad’s wife would be allowed a temporary visa.
Renewed border crisis
Earlier this month, Mohammad attempted the treacherous journey that thousands of other asylum seekers have made since October 2021, when a border crisis between Belarus and Poland intensified.
Belarusian authorities, mainly via tourist agencies in the Middle East, were found to have promoted misinformation campaigns offering a route into the European Union via Belarus. This was viewed by Poland and the EU as a strategy by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko – the closest ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin – to destabilise the region.
Many from the Middle East tried to make desperate journeys, but found themselves in a new humanitarian crisis as the two countries rowed over responsibility.
Rights abuses were reported on the Polish side of the border, with Polish border guards and police routinely pushing back those seeking asylum in the EU into Belarus, according to civil society groups and grassroots organisations working in the border area.
Al Jazeera also reported on the victims of Belarusian border guards, who beat those returning from Poland.
The constant back and forth in the often damp, freezing forested conditions led to at least 37 deaths since October 2021, according to activists, but the true toll is feared to be far higher.
In recent weeks, the number of crossings has risen.
“Right now, the volume of people crossing is more than winter,” said Antoni Mantorski of Grupa Granica, a network of pro-refugee groups that works on the ground, saying warmer weather may be a factor.
The Polish Border Guard registered 159 attempted crossings on Saturday.
The “same mechanisms” driving the border crisis are still in place, including Belarus issuing tourist visas and encouraging people to cross into Poland, where they are then pushed back, said Mantorski.
“It’s illegal, and it’s still happening,” he said.
‘I got scared’
Mohammad’s daughter, a German resident, said her plight was made worse by Polish hospital staff who treated her with suspicion.
“When I saw my father, I fell down with shock, but the doctor didn’t help me up. Instead, he asked me how my father got here,” she said.
She said the doctor called over a policewoman who could speak German – which she is fluent in – and demanded to see her documentation before accusing her of involvement in people smuggling.
The actions of the police, which she described as “clearly racist”, left her feeling a mixture of “shock” and “fear”.
She said the police officer ominously warned her: “It could be the last time you see your father.”
“I got scared; I thought they would disconnect the machines from my father,” she said.
“Now, I have told all the police – don’t do this again. I just want to know about my father’s health, don’t ask me how I got here anymore.”
The police officer later apologised to her.
A spokeswoman for the Polish Border Guard told Al Jazeera that officers visited the hospital to confirm that the daughter was a family member and check if she was in Poland legally.
Editor’s note: Al Jazeera is not reporting the family name, or Mohammad’s daughter’s name, in order to protect their identities.