Once his family is out of danger after crossing the border between Poland and Belarus, Aras Palani doesn’t think of taking a breather: he spends his time helping migrants stuck in the woods on the eastern edge of the European Union. .
Having fled, twenty years ago, the Iraq of Sadaam Hussein, this keen-eyed Kurd, now aged 49, left all his relatives there. After a long journey, he settled in Great Britain, where he became a citizen.
“Since then, I have tried to bring my family several times. Always in vain,” he told AFP, sitting in the kitchen of a refugee aid center in Bialystok, in the east of Poland, where he became a volunteer.
Two months ago, “when I learned that there was a possibility to go through Belarus, I convinced my family to try this route,” he explains.
Aras did not know that to stem the flow of migrants, the Polish authorities had declared a state of emergency in the border area, built a fence, dispatched thousands of soldiers, and blocked access, especially to media and organizations. charitable.
Despite everything, he manages to enter the Polish part. His family, seven in total, were in the woods on the Belarusian side at the time.
“The worst part was when I was right in front of the fence. I knew they were five minutes away on foot. My children were starving. And my grandson was crying on the phone,” he says.
Aras begged the Polish border guards to allow him to throw food and water over the barbed wire.
“They didn’t let me do it,” he regrets. However, they arrested him and fined him.
– “Manhandled by the police –
In Belarus, his family was “beaten up by the police”.
“Once, they released a dog on them. He threw himself on my grandson, my daughter covered him. The dog bit her on the shoulder. She keeps track of it for a few centimeters, still visible. They have known hell on earth, “he concludes.
His relatives remained stranded for ten days in the forest, the Polish and Belarusian border guards sending them back to each other.
“In one night, eight times, they played ping-pong with them, he explains moved, it was hard,” he adds.
Today, the entire Aras family finally seems safe. He has just visited his daughter who is, with two other relatives, in a refugee center in Poland, while his wife and their son-in-law have already passed through Switzerland.
His son and his wife continue to hide in the woods in Poland.
“I’m sending them food,” Aras smiles.
– “Aras 24/7” –
Aras does not think of stopping there.
He posted his phone numbers on Facebook and since then his three devices have been ringing continuously during the day and, above all, at night.
Not sleeping much, eating coffee and cigarettes, he collaborates with Polish NGOs that help those who have managed to cross the forbidden zone, providing them with warm clothes, food, medicine and legal assistance.
“Unfortunately, we can only help those who have managed to cross this state of emergency zone,” he laments.
“My nickname is Aras 24/7. My phones and my computer remain on. I am always ready to help, explain, translate. I speak seven languages, twelve if you include the dialects,” he says.
The stories of refugees at the end of their rope stuck in the woods, pregnant women, small children without food or medicine, rambling from one country to another, despair him.
“Belarus is using people as a catapult against the EU,” he said overwhelmed, while also accusing Poland of violating EU law.
“When you enter the territory of the European Union, you have the right to ask for asylum and this is not often respected here”.
“I know some who were in a hospital in Poland, then who were taken back to the border,” he insists. “I haven’t cried for years, but since I’ve been in Poland I cry five times a week.”
Aras would like to see his family one day reunited in one country. In the meantime, he will stay in Poland, “as long as there are people who need me”.