BOHONIKI: On an overcast Sunday amid fields and forest, a few men from Poland’s small Muslim community laid to rest a Yemeni migrant who died of cold and fatigue while trying to cross into the European Union from Belarus.
After saying a prayer outside the old wooden mosque of the Polish border village of Bohoniki, the men transported the coffin to a cemetery located on a hill of pine trees.
Mustafa Mohammed Murshid al-Raymi, who died age 37, was buried in the presence of his brother and the Yemeni ambassador to Poland. His grave was located alongside those of other migrants who have died in the border crisis that erupted this summer.
“It’s an expression of our respect for and solidarity with this man who died in horrible conditions. It’s a real tragedy,” said burial attendee Ryszard Mozdabaiev, a Muslim who fled Crimea for Poland eight years ago.
“This is politics that despise people,” he said alongside friends from Crimea and Chechnya who were all well acquainted with the experience of being a migrant.
The tiny local Muslim community — mostly descendents of the Tatars whose presence in Poland’s northeast dates back to the 14th century — have taken it upon themselves to organise proper burials for the migrants who have died in the border crisis.
“I fear there will be more burials soon,” said Maciej Szczesnowicz, the local Muslim leader.
Caught in the middle
His community in Bohoniki has been helping the migrants on the border by collecting clothes and food and raising funds. They have also been lending a hand to troops in the area by cooking them soup every day. Polish media say at least 11 migrants have died since the crisis began.
Last week, Belarus cleared a makeshift border encampment, sending 2,000 migrants to a nearby logistics centre.
But Polish border guards report that migrants continue to try their luck at crossing the border.
The West accuses Belarus of creating the crisis by bringing in would-be migrants — mostly from the Middle East — and taking them to the border with promises of an easy crossing into the European Union.
Belarus has denied the claim, instead criticising the EU for not taking in the migrants.
Caught in the middle, migrants often report being forced to cross the border by Belarusian officials, before then being pushed back into Belarus by Polish authorities.
Yemen’s foreign ministry said Saturday it was working on bringing back its citizens from the border, including eight on the Belarusian side and nine in Poland.
Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2021