Polish soldiers construct a barbed wire fence on the border with Belarus in Zubrzyca Wielka near Bialystok, eastern Poland Photograph:( Agencies )
Along the tangle of razor wire at the border, there was not a migrant in sight Thursday afternoon. Under the gray gloom of the November sky, a phalanx of Polish soldiers remained in formation, pressing up against the wire
The hastily constructed migrant encampments at the main border crossing into Poland from Belarus were cleared by the Belarusian government Thursday morning, removing, for the moment, a major flashpoint that has raised tensions across Europe.
The patch of land nicknamed “the jungle” only days ago the site of violent clashes between migrants trying to push through the razor wire and Polish security forces blasting them with water cannons was now a wasteland of garbage, abandoned tents and smoldering fires.
Along the tangle of razor wire at the border, there was not a migrant in sight Thursday afternoon. Under the gray gloom of the November sky, a phalanx of Polish soldiers remained in formation, pressing up against the wire.
While the clearing of the camps promised to ease the immediate suffering of those living in freezing conditions, authorities in Belarus offered no indication of where those who flew to the Eastern European country in the hope of building a life in the West would go now that they were being directed away from the border.
Still, on Thursday, a steady stream of people escorted by heavily armed Belarusian security forces, their faces covered by black balaclavas made their way down a half-mile road to a government-run warehouse where they were offered refuge from the mud and the muck.
For Masoud Mahdi, 35, who had spent 11 days in the jungle with his pregnant wife and young daughter, it was enough to just get out of the cold.
“We were living worse than dogs,” he said as he made his way to the warehouse. “Last night was impossible. It was raining and freezing, and we had to leave.”
Still, Mahdi said, he did not want to return to Iraq. He wanted to make it to Germany.
Western leaders believe the crisis at the border was manufactured by the Belarusian government, which lured migrants, mostly on flights from the Middle East, to Belarus with easily obtainable visas and the suggestion of a path across its borders to the European Union.
The flow of migrants into Belarus has been largely cut off as airlines restrict flights from the Middle East and the crowds moving to the border appear to have stopped.
But thousands already in Belarus face an uncertain fate, and the authorities have given little indication of where they might go.
Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said that 430 Iraqis had registered to return home on a repatriation flight Thursday. But that is only a fraction of the thousands of migrants in Belarus, and there was little sign that most would volunteer to leave. Many expressed hope they could still find a way into the EU. Some said they would simply stay in Belarus, which would present an unexpected challenge for President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.