LONDON: Refugees from the Middle East arbitrarily detained by Polish authorities after crossing into Belarus in 2021 have been subjected to detailed violent treatment against them.
Amnesty International has interviewed asylum seekers stranded in Poland who have described the suffering they endured at the hands of border officials.
Many of them were held in the Wedrzyn detention centre, which can hold up to 600 people and where overcrowding was common. The guards greeted the new detainees saying “welcome to Guantanamo.”
Khafiz, a Syrian refugee in Wedrzyn, told Amnesty: “Most of the time we were woken up by the sound of tanks and helicopters, followed by gunfire and explosions. It lasted all day, sometimes.
“When you have nowhere to go, no activity (to) distract you, or space for even a brief respite, it was intolerable.”
He added: “After all the torture in prison in Syria, the threats against my family, and then months on the road, I think I was finally broken in Wedrzyn.”
Violent forced returns were another feature of Polish mistreatment, with border guards coercing refugees into signing documents containing incriminating information.
Yezda, an Iraqi Kurd, panicked after Polish authorities told her that she, her husband and three children were to be deported back to Iraq.
She threatened to kill herself, but the Polish authorities continued with their plans to force her and her family back into the fight they had escaped.
“I knew I couldn’t go back to Iraq and I was ready to die in Poland. While I was crying like this, two guards restrained me and my husband tied our hands behind our backs and a doctor gave us an injection which made us very weak and sleepy,” she said. told Amnesty.
“My head wasn’t clear, but I could hear my children, who were in the room with us, crying and screaming. We were asked to go through airport security and the guards told us to behave on the plane. But I refused to go,” she added.
“I remember noticing that I didn’t even have shoes, because in the chaos of the camp, they slipped off my feet. My head was unclear and I couldn’t see my husband or children, but I remember they forced me onto the plane which was full of people. I was still crying and begging the police not to take us away.
Eventually, her refusal was successful and her family remained in a camp in Poland, even though border guards broke her foot during the struggle to get her on the plane to Iraq.
Almost all of those interviewed by Amnesty said they had been traumatized after fleeing the conflict and being trapped for months at the border.
They suffered from complex psychological injuries, including anxiety, insomnia, depression and frequent suicidal thoughts.
Amnesty said these mental health issues were “undoubtedly exacerbated” by the abuse suffered in Poland, warning that psychological support was unavailable for most asylum seekers.