Residents voice fear in tense Polish border town

·3-min read

In a town swept up in the migrant crisis on the Poland-Belarus border, residents said they were worried by the growing tensions but voiced support for the Polish government's tough stance.

Since Monday, when hundreds of migrants marched to the Polish border from Belarus, columns of police and military vehicles have criss-crossed the normally sleepy town of around 19,000 people.

"I'm afraid of the migrants getting through and what the consequences would be," said Henryk Lenkiewicz, a 67-year-old pensioner walking by a community noticeboard in the town centre.

But 79-year-old Regina said she was more worried about the stand-off with Belarus than the migrants.

"We are afraid of the situation with Belarus. There are dozens of police cars going back and forth in the town," she said as she waited for a bus.

The government has accused Belarus of "state terrorism", saying the regime is sending migrants, most of them from the Middle East, to the EU and NATO border and pushing them to cross.

It has sent 15,000 troops to the border to aid police and border guards to stop the migrants getting through, overwhelming the border region.

"The residents here are under constant stress," said the deputy mayor, Piotr Romanowicz.

Izabela Korecki, a 38-year-old housewife out for a walk with her two daughters, agreed saying: "We hear the sirens and helicopters all the time".

- 'Less and less hope' -

Like the rest of Poland, the town was festooned in Polish red-and-white flags for Thursday's National Independence Day celebration.

Signs could also be seen expressing support for Polish forces, including one asking residents to donate snacks and cake for the soldiers.

There was little sympathy for the migrants, camping out in dire conditions beyond a razor-wire fence put up by Poland just 16 kilometres (10 miles) away.

"Those who want to help them should each take in a family for five years and pay for it themselves," said Aniela, 57, after her car was stopped by border guards at one of several checkpoints in the area searching for migrants in the boot.

But Romanowicz said the town was ready to help, saying that "some of them have found themselves in this situation through no fault on their own".

A non-governmental organisation, the Ocalenie (Salvation) Foundation, has also been assisting the few migrants who do manage to make it through.

"We have been here since August and we see more and more people trying to cross this border in an irregular way," said Anna Chmielewska, as she sorted through piles of donated food and clothes in a garage off the main street in the town.

"They are getting more and more tired and have less and less hope of succeeding," she said.

Like other charities, her foundation is not allowed to operate in the immediate border area which has been placed under a state of emergency.

"I can't believe we are living in times like these. We are here, we are ready to help but we cannot."

dt/yad

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