Nigerian migrant found dead in Polish forest near Belarus

Migrants queue to get hot food in the logistics center of the checkpoint “Bruzgi” at the Belarus-Poland border near Grodno, Belarus, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. The West has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of luring thousands of migrants to Belarus with the promise of help to get to Western Europe to use them as pawns to destabilize the 27-nation European Union in retaliation for its sanctions on his authoritarian government. Belarus denies engineering the crisis. (Oksana Manchuk/BelTA via AP)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The body of a migrant believed to be from Nigeria was found in a forest near Poland’s border with Belarus, Polish police said Wednesday, the latest death resulting in a standoff at the European Union’s eastern border.

The death was reported a day after a humanitarian group said it believed that a 4-year-old Iraqi girl has gone missing in subfreezing temperatures on the Polish side of the border with Belarus. The Border Group, an organization made up of refugee rights and other human rights groups, said the girl got separated from her parents, alleging that the parents were pushed back across the border into Belarus by Polish Border Guard officers.

However, Poland’s Border Guard agency denied that, saying it had not detained any families. It said that after receiving information that activists had given to the country’s human rights commissioner, authorities searched the area from land and air for the girl.

The Poland-Belarus border, which is also part of the EU’s border with Belarus, has seen a standoff involving migrants and refugees since the summer. The EU accuses Belarus of using the migrants like pawns as it orchestrated illegal migration against the bloc in retaliation for its sanctions against the government of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

Many people from the Middle East, among them Kurds from Iraq, have seized on what appeared to be an easy way to a better life in Western Europe, only to find their way blocked and endure great suffering trapped in the border’s forests and bogs.

The scale of migration is much smaller now than several weeks ago after airlines stopped flights from many Mideast points to Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Yet some people are still on the Belarus side of the border, attempting to enter Poland.

Police said that officers discovered a body in a forest near the village of Olchówka on Tuesday.

“Next to the body was a backpack and a Nigerian passport,” police said on Twitter.

The death raises to over 15 the number of people who have died trying to enter Poland from Belarus. Human rights activists believe the number is likely higher given the people that volunteers have encountered in the forest.

Since early September, Poland’s border zone has been off-limits to reporters and human rights workers, first due to a three-month state of emergency and now under new legislation that limits the rights of non-residents to enter the border area. Belarus also restricts the work of independent journalists.

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