Inside the horror of Belarus’ twisted regime where migrants are beaten with guns, kicked in the ribs and electrocuted

HEMMED in by razor wire at Europe’s latest migrant ground zero, shivering Mahamad Sexo’s hopes of ever reaching Britain appear to be fading.

As night falls, and the temperature plunges toward zero, he begs me: “Please help us. We will starve.”

Desperate migrants at a camp with security forces standing by on Polish-Belarusian border[/caption]
Mahamad, 35, reveals how his journey to the UK is stalled after he became a human chess piece in a game of international brinkmanship

Despairing Mahamad, 35, from Iraq’s Kurdish minority, reveals how back home there is “no work, no freedom and no hope”.

Now his journey to the UK is stalled in a godforsaken pine forest at the Belarus/Poland border, after Mahamad became a human chess piece in a game of international brinkmanship.

Like thousands of other migrants, many also Kurds, he was lured to Belarus by President Alexander Lukashenko for an unwitting role in its Russian-backed “hybrid war” with the European Union.

Known as Europe’s Last Dictator, Lukashenko’s security goons then pushed a stream of migrants from Belarusian capital Minsk to the EU’s eastern border in Poland.

One family of Syrians was told by Belarusian soldiers last month: “Choose death or Poland.”

Tension built on Monday as the Belarusians escorted some 4,000 migrants to desolate borderlands near the Polish village of Kuznica. The Poles have responded with a vast show of military muscle, forcing back desperate migrants, including children and the elderly, who had tried to make it across.

Snarling police dogs

Some 100 cheering migrants forced their way through a fence yesterday only to be met with more guards and wire. Blanketed by freezing fog, they now remain sleeping rough or in ramshackle tents in marshy scrub as EU leaders fear the continent faces a fresh migrant crisis.

Our Ministry of Defence revealed yesterday it had deployed support at the Belarus border. A source told us: “Ten Royal Engineers are there to assess what we can do to help make that border safe. We’re confident it will be a prelude to a larger effort to help our Nato Polish allies.”

On the other side of the border, Russian and Belarusian paratroopers carried out a drill 20 miles away. My efforts to speak to Mahamad face-to-face were stymied by armed checkpoints after Poland threw up a two-mile exclusion zone around its eastern border with Belarus.

One soldier — his colleague with an assault rifle pointing skyward — told me: “There’s a crisis and we don’t want the media there.” Instead, Mahamad sent me WhatsApp messages and images to describe the abject misery he and other migrants are enduring.

The Kurd, from Ranya in northern Iraq, who flew into Belarus legally with a visa, messaged me: “Our lives are so bad. We don’t have enough water. Belarusian soldiers give us some but it’s not good quality. We sleep in the forest. It’s freezing.”

He sent me pictures of his severely wrinkled feet after they had been drenched in the boggy wasteland. Another showed Mahamad and his friends huddled in sleeping bags on open ground. A further pitiful image revealed two young girls holding up misspelt cardboard placards reading: “Please help.” But heartbreakingly, one of the cherubic pair said: “No one has come to help.”

Another Kurdish migrant at the border, Mohammed Faysal, 23, from Kirkuk, Iraq, WhatsApped me to say: “I want you to make the world hear our voice. Many people here are waiting for the border to be opened, they need food.

The food coming from the Belarus side is not enough and we need warm clothes. “We are not criminals. We are headed to the EU and want to live in Europe because we are in danger in our own country.”

We used to catch migrants in droves here. Now, forget it, you will be catching them yourselves.

President Alexander Lukashenko

In August, I met dozens of Kurds from Iraq and Iran at the New Jungle near Dunkirk, in France, who were waiting for a place on an overcrowded dinghy to the UK.

Migrants are fleeing high unemployment, corruption and political instability in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Continuing conflict between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — designated a terrorist group by Britain — has also pushed some to take flight.

Their plight is used by Lukashenko, a sinister Vladimir Putin mini-me, to settle scores with the West. He let thousands from across the Middle East fly to Belarus, visa-free or on tourist papers, to encourage them to make for Europe. He aims to destabilise the EU in retaliation for rounds of sanctions.

These were imposed following Belarus’s disputed 2020 presidential election, the hounding of political opponents and the forced landing of a Ryanair jet carrying an opposition dissident in Minsk. Lukashenko bragged in May: “We used to catch migrants in droves here. Now, forget it, you will be catching them yourselves.”

EU commissioner Margaritis Schinas said: “This is not normal asylum seekers, fleeing from war or dictatorship, seeking the protection of Europe. They are flown to Minsk, put in buses escorted by Belarusian police and special forces and pushed to the border and into the EU.” Lukashenko denies he is using Mahamad and the others in a game, insisting the migrant crisis has been caused by wars fought by Western nations including Britain.

He lashed out at those countries for “destroying” Libya and Iraq, and “killing” tyrants Saddam Hussein and Colonel “Mad Dog” Gaddafi. Moustachioed Lukashenko said of his fellow despots: “They were the greatest thinkers. I met them and had very good, close relations with them. These scum just killed them.”

At the choke point near Kuznica, migrants were seen using branches as battering rams and wire cutters in a bid to breach the border fence. One man, who looked in his twenties, swung at the razor wire with a shovel before being sprayed in the face with a liquid by Polish security personnel.

Poland has bolstered troop and police numbers at the border to 15,000, with wailing sirens echoing through the misty birch woods. There are snarling police dogs, mounted patrols and helicopters, in Poland’s biggest show of force since the end of the Cold War. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Facebook that the Polish border “is sacred”.

Bison and wolves

He added: “Polish blood has been spilled for it.” Driving through desolate scrub-land close to the frontier, I received a text message reading: “The Polish border is sealed. BLR [Belarus] authorities told you lies. Go back to Minsk. Don’t take any pills from Belarusian soldiers.”

It was sent out to all foreign cell phones in the area by the Polish government. A link to the text alleged that the pills might be poisonous. The propaganda war continued on Wednesday, when Polish authorities posted two videos from the border which they claimed showed Belarusian troops firing into the ground and scuffling with people. Belarus denied the claims.

Poland’s eastern flank has long been on the migration trail. Last month alone, 5,285 unauthorised migrants crossed the Polish-German border after coming from Belarus. Some take their chances on a new life in Europe by traipsing through Poland’s primeval Bialowieza Forest, 60 miles south of Kuznica, where bison and wolves roam.

Polish charity groups try to aid migrants stricken in the densely wooded swampland. One activist revealed: “Three Syrians were found almost drowned in a swamp. One was a woman, aged 18, who was nearly unconscious. They had been in the forest for two weeks. The woman was clinging to wood in the water. The swamps catch people unaware, especially at night.”

At least ten migrants have died crossing the border since the summer, many from hypothermia. Others make it across Poland to Germany and on to the shores of the English Channel. Another activist, from the Grupa Granica organisation, told me: “I grew up in this area. Sometimes the snow is a metre high and the temperature can fall to -30C.

“We are all terrified of what will happen in the next few weeks. It will be f***ed up. We fear we will find bodies.” Volunteers believe the exclusion zone is in place to stop the world seeing the Polish authorities’ often-violent pushing back of migrants into Belarus. The Doctors Without Borders charity describes migrants “beaten with the butt of a gun, kicked in the ribs and electrocuted in the neck” by Polish and Lithuanian border guards.

We are all terrified of what will happen in the next few weeks. It will be f***ed up. We fear we will find bodies.

Activist, from the Grupa Granica organisation

In Polish border town Michalowo, volunteer Tomasz Jochymski, 32, sorts food, clothes and nappies for the migrants.

He said: “People living near the border try to help the migrants. Elderly women make sandwiches. Poles like to help, we’ve had a tough history ourselves.” He said of Lukashenko: “I don’t understand how you can play politics with people’s lives.”

The Polish government insists Putin is Lukashenko’s puppet master. On Thursday, Russia dispatched two nuclear-capable bombers on a training mission over Belarus for the second time in two days.

Lukashenko said the flights were in response to the troop build-up in Poland, adding: “Let them scream and squeak. Yes, those are nuclear-capable bombers, but we have no other choice.”

He has also threatened to turn off Russian gas pipelines running through Belarus to Western Europe. The EU is planning further sanctions against Belarus following Lukashenko’s “gangster-style” provocations.

Meanwhile, in the miserable woodlands, Mahamad prepares for another freezing night on Europe’s border — a wretched pawn in a morally bankrupt dictator’s evil game.

Thousands of migrants, many Kurds, are lured to Belarus by President Alexander Lukashenko, known as Europe’s Last Dictator[/caption]
A child seen crying in the camp set up by migrants on the Belarusian-Polish border[/caption]
A picture taken on November 12, 2021 shows children in the migrants camp[/caption]
Young migrants’ plea from behind the wire
Migrants walk near a barbed wire fence while moving toward a makeshift camp in the Grodno region, Belarus on November 12th[/caption]

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