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For illegal Indian migrants in Europe, the Belarus-Poland border issue has become a bottleneck

Four Punjabi men were trapped after being held by Poland's border guards as the Belarus-Poland border situation intensified

For illegal Indian migrants in Europe, the Belarus-Poland border issue has become a bottleneck

Eastern European countries have long been preferred entry points for illegal Indian migrants seeking to enter and stay in the European Union. However, the ongoing turmoil at the Belarus-Poland border has cut off one of these migrants' main routes. Many of these migrants have become stranded in the region, possibly unaware of the magnitude of the problem at this border.

Migrants began flocking to Belarus in huge numbers this summer, trying to gain entry to the European Union. The EU, NATO, and the US claimed that Belarus' president, Alexander Lukashenko, had deliberately orchestrated the border crisis with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia in retaliation for sanctions imposed on his country for its brutal crackdown on opponents and citizens who participated in mass protests following the country's August 2020 election.

In late November, four migrants from Punjab, travelling overseas for the first time, who had found themselves stranded at this border after being detained by Poland's border guards. "They expect me to arrange some sort of rescue team, which is beyond my ability," a source in Belarus told.

Hours after reaching the border, one of the four, Baljinder Singh, sent a desperate voice message: "Hello sir. Please help us. We are four people in the jungle… have been starving. We have not eaten in the last three days and not had a drop of water in our stomach. Our two guys are already on the floor and they are dying. So please send your rescue team to save our lives…I am sending you my location. Please send a rescue team as soon as possible (sic)."

There has been minimal reporting on the presence of Indian migrants at the Belarus-Poland border, in compared to migrants from other nations attempting to enter Poland, in part because they may not be a huge number. However, the Polish Border Guard claimed in October that there had been "11,300 attempts to illegally cross the Polish border from Belarus. 16 Iraqis, 2 Indians & 1 Syrian were arrested by security forces, the rest were turned back…"; the first official confirmation that Indian nationals had been apprehended at this border. There appear to be only ten known examples of Indians attempting to enter Poland over this border, according to interviews with several sources for this storey, although the true number could be far higher.

With the four Indian migrants, communication was sporadic. They had written similar texts appealing for help to everyone they knew in Europe and Russia. Sharma, an Indian national in Portugal whose first name has been suppressed on request, received one of these messages. "I have been speaking to their parents and I haven't slept for a week or stayed away from my phone. They met someone in Russia who directed them to me saying I could help," Sharma told in November.

When migrants find themselves in tough conditions on their way to Europe or elsewhere, illegal immigration from India and South Asia as a whole relies significantly on informal networks of referrals and contacts for aid. Sharma claimed he attempted to assist them for no other reason than humanity. The men were very young, ranging in age from 21 to 25, had never travelled outside of the United States previously, and could hardly speak in basic English.

Sitting in Portugal, there was little that Sharma could do. "I tried helping them with the police and ambulance, but the situation became such that nothing could be done," he explained. Since the spike in the border issue this year, no numbers on how many Indian people have been captured at the Belarus-Poland border attempting to enter the European Union were readily available.

"Look, they went with the intention of going to Poland. Nobody told them to go," Sharma said. While the men had hoped for a different ending, insiders claim they should have been aware of the risks and disadvantages of going on such a trek across Europe.

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