Tatar Muslims bury Syrian migrant who died at Belarus-Poland border

GRODNO, BELARUS - NOVEMBER 19, 2021: Migrants gathered inside a logistics center on the Belarusian side of the border. Belarus, cleared a migrant camp near the border with Poland. [Djordje Kostic]

The body of a 19-year-old Syrian migrant who died while crossing the river on the Belarus-Poland border was buried by a group of local Muslims on Monday.

Ahmad al-Hasan was buried at a Muslim cemetery in Bohonika, managed by the Tatar Muslim community in Poland. The funeral and the subsequent burial were witnessed by a handful of attendees. Hassan’s family who live in refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan were able to participate remotely via a video call.

Hasan’s body was found on Tuesday 19 October in the River Bug near the Belarus border in eastern Poland. An eyewitness said that Hasan didn’t know how to swim and a Belarusian guard pushed him to enter the water.

His body had decomposed as it was kept in a morgue in Bielsko Biala for over a month. Hassan had hoped to pursue an education in Europe which he had started in a refugee camp in Jordan.

Imam Aleksander Bazarewicz who performed the funeral said: “This is not the end. Death is not a tragedy; it only means that God has a better place for him. He dies a tragic death, he drowned so he has a status of a martyr.”

A local Muslim community leader, Maciej Szczesnowicz, said: “Hasan is a human being, a Muslim, a youth, and it is important that we should give him a burial worthy of the name.”

At least 11 migrants have reportedly died at the Poland-Belarus border since the beginning of the crisis in August.

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Szczesnowicz told Reuters: “We are worried that there might be more people dead because you know what the weather is like right now. It is cold, people are emaciated. We fear the worst.

“We have a large enough cemetery, and want to offer that person a dignified funeral, a person who came from abroad and died on Polish ground.”

As the temperature drops below freezing, a lot of volunteers from the Tatar Muslim community are trying to help migrants who are either in Polish territory or the nearby woods.

According to a report by Al Jazeera: “Locals are reportedly putting green lights outside their homes to show their willingness to help those lost in the forest and some venture out, searching for people to help. A community spirit is palpable on the ground, with a local fire station collecting food and warm clothes for people in need.”

On Tuesday, a 27-week-old foetus was found and buried near the grave of Hassan. It belonged to an Iraqi woman who had managed to cross the border and was stranded in the forest. She was found by a group of volunteers and is currently battling for her life in a local hospital. Doctors confirmed that the foetus belonged to the woman.

Imam Bazarewicz told mourners: “These people did not leave their homes, their countries for a tourist trip, but to find a better life. When we dug the first grave, we were hoping it would be the last. Unfortunately, that was not the case.”

A total of three graves belonging to a 37-year-old Yemeni, Mustafa Mohammed Murshid al-Raymi, 19-year-old Syrian, Ahmad Al Hasan, and an unidentified migrant are currently in the local cemetery.

Meanwhile, a state of emergency has been declared in Poland and the country has reinforced its borders with an additional 15,000 troops. The authorities have made the border area a no-go zone for everyone including NGO workers and journalists.

The EU is blaming the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, for orchestrating the migrant crisis on the Poland-Belarus border. Brussels has imposed a set of renewed sanctions on the Lukashenko government last week.

According to the European Commission: “The new sanctions would target individuals and entities organising or contributing to activities by the Lukashenko regime that facilitate the illegal crossing of the European Union’s external borders.”

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