Chechens seeking asylum in EU stranded in ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’
Recent story with Jonathan Brown from Brest, Belarus.
Abdullah had to flee, because of his whistle-blowing activities on Chechen security-apparatus. It included documents, which civil servants had to sign to ‘voluntarily’ fight in Donbass, Ukraine for “Russian interests.” His colleague is currently missing.
Every morning, hundreds of Chechens take the train in an attempt to enter the EU via Poland. Many are fleeing Kadyrov’s repressive regime, and some are looking for a better life. Polish border guards are refusing to accept their asylum – and deny entry on basis of ‘lacking visa’, and therefore, many have been living inside the train station for months.
Chechen man shows his passport with a single stamp. The Polish border guards stamp 1, 2 or maximum 3 stamps on each page, instead of the possible eight. Chechens claim this is to make sure the passport is used up quicker, which would then require for it to be replaced.
A couple comes back from a shop – having bought groceries for themselves and their children, to the train station terminal where they spend their nights.
Many Chechens choose to wear medical masks to prevent disclosure of their identity – to journalists, security agents and the police.
The train between Brest, Belarus and Terespol, Poland. According to Chechens and also local human rights group ‘Human Constanta’, first three carriages are reserved for non-Chechens. This is to ensure Chechen migrants are separated by a line of security guards once arrived in Terespol.
An anxious family, who didn’t attempt to cross into Poland that day, observes Chechen families return to Brest after being refused entry at the Polish border. Soon enough, they see their relatives come through after another unsuccessful attempt; a Belarusian man observes the scene.
Many families have no choice, other than to sleep at the train station. Having sold everything at home, families usually arrive with a few thousand euros. “The money is finished, completely,” said one man, “but there’s no way back.”
Chechen men shake hands, before some of them depart to rented apartments where they stay with their family – which charge 15 to 30 euros a night and are usually located far from the train station.
Abdullah stands together with another Chechen man after 32nd unsuccessfully attempt to cross into Poland. Abdullah’s friend was killed after transporting his wife and children into the EU, and therefore Abdullah faces the same threat at home for his whistleblowing activities on Chechen security-apparatus.
A news report, published 1 July 2016, show a joint Russian and Belarusian OMON – special police forces, arrest a Chechen in Brest train station, suspected of being involved in terrorist groups. “If he’s a terrorist, then I’m a..” – Abdullah, a Chechen man in his 20s looks tries to find words. “Belarus isn’t a safe country for us, they [the Russians] can come with gun and cars and take you,” added Wacha.
The final carriage of the Brest-Terespol train. “It’s the ‘gold’ train,” says Chechen named Wacha. “For a family of 5, it costs 50 euros a day to attempt the crossing.” Chechens accuse the Polish officials and Belarusian train operators of corruption, and continuous financial exploitation.
Inside the international train terminal in Brest, Belarus. By midday, Chechens begin to gather to wait for the arriving train from Terespol at 12:46, bringing with it all their compatriots who failed to make it across.
The bridge passing over train tracks brings Chechens back and forth – to the shop for more canned and dry food, and onto their rented apartments, which are most commonly shared by two or three families.