Polish wall fails to deter African and Cuban migrants

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HISTORY: This is Poland’s 18-foot-tall steel barrier, built on its border with Belarus.

It was meant to be a European version of former US President Donald Trump’s wall, protecting the EU’s eastern border from illegal immigration.

But the wall, which stretches for about 186 kilometers, may not be enough to stop the constant flow of people trying to cross into Poland.

Joel and Lisa, a 30-year-old married couple from Cuba, said they climbed the barrier overnight from Russia.

Their faces are hidden to protect their identity.

JOEL: “Before we got on, we put the two pieces of luggage together with our shoes between the bars. Then we went to the other side and ran.”

VOICE OF LISA: “We couldn’t put our shoes on on the other side because the guards were there. There is a guard post every kilometer. You have to run at least a kilometer to get away from it as quickly as possible .”

The couple moved to Russia on student visas in April 2021 as they struggled to feed their families at home.

Lisa’s three children remained in Cuba.

But the political situation in Russia has become tense because of the war in Ukraine.

Joel and Lisa decided to make the long journey to Spain via Belarus and Poland to join other family members.

Poland began building its steel fence in January…

… after nearly 40,000 people attempted to cross from Belarus between August 2021 and January 2022.

The Polish government has also imposed an emergency zone near the border and launched a campaign to push back migrants to Belarus.

Critics say it sparked a humanitarian catastrophe.

But Poland insists the measures were necessary in response to what it called provocations by Belarus.

The wall was completed last month.

But Grupa Granica, an NGO coalition, said people continued to fall over, under or through.

Paulina Bownik is the doctor who has provided medical aid to more than 300 people since last August.

“We have people in the woods all the time. We have more and more and I don’t believe the wall will stop them. Whether there are cameras, a perimeter or any other system or not, people will find a way to get here.”

This year, the border guard recorded fewer than 5,900 attempts to enter Poland illegally from Belarus, compared to almost 40,000 between August and December 2021.

What has changed, however, is that most migrants use Russia to get to Europe.

Unlike last year, when the majority came from the Middle East via Belarus, according to the Polish border guard.

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