Polish authorities have discovered the dead body of a Syrian refugee drowned in a river, who was reportedly pushed in by Belarusian border guards.
The 19-year-old refugee was found in the river, Bug, along the Polish-Belarusian border yesterday afternoon near the village of Woroblin, following a search that has been conducted since Tuesday morning. Polish border authorities had been informed of the missing man by another Syrian refugee who had been pushed in the river with him, but survived.
According to the Polish Press Agency (PAP), the regional police spokesman, Andrzej Fijołek, said that the identity of the drowned Syrian "was confirmed by the other young man with whom he tried to illegally cross the Bug a day earlier." He added that "we also found documents on the body. So there is no doubt that [it is him]."
Belarusian border guards had reportedly pushed the men in the river in order to force them to cross the border to Poland, despite the fact that "neither of them could swim."
The death of the refugee, whose name has not been mentioned, brings the recorded death toll on the Polish side of the border to seven, amid an increase in attempted crossings by refugees and migrants from Syria and other countries in the Middle East, such as Iraq.
After being offered transport to the Belarusian capital, Minsk, by smugglers—with the false promise that it is part of the European Union (EU) and that their rights would be protected—many of the refugees and migrants then attempt to flee the country to neighbouring states like Poland and Lithuania. Most of them, however, are reported to die of the cold and sub-zero temperatures at night, as well as hypothermia.
Over the past few months, there have emerged numerous reports of Belarusian forces holding refugees at the border, beating and abusing them, often before forcing them to cross. As many of them aim to reach Germany and apply for refuge there, Germany has accused Belarus of weaponising the refugees.
According to the Polish border guards, the vast majority of the refugees who enter the country are Iraqis, followed by Afghans and then Syrians. In August, Iraq guaranteed that it is taking measures to protect its nationals stranded at the Belarus-Lithuania border, condemning the vast human trafficking and smuggling network which benefits from the crisis.