Polish lawyer’s greenlight refugee campaign wins international attention


Kamil Syller, a Polish lawyer from Warsaw, is at home waiting with his two dogs for news of more refugees lost in the forest just behind his house.

It is 5 kilometers (3 miles) direct and 7 km (4 mi) by road to the border from his house, Dobry Dom (Good House). Kamil, who has three daughters aged between 9 and 21 - all at school in Warsaw - works partly in Warsaw and partly at home in the tiny village of Wertstok, about 200 km (124 mi) east of Warsaw.

'This is where the EU ends,' he said.

'We had been living here since 2015 and in September 2021 we started collecting clothes after the events nearby, where 30 to 40 people from Afghanistan were first cordoned off and prevented from having contact with medics or media. People started to realize that something very bad was happening here and we started to develop a network.

The border, he said, is 'very porous' in that part of Poland and there have been disputes 'where the border actually is.'

'Neighbors in the village were initially not very friendly. We laugh that there is a mini state here between Poland and Belarus. They ask us where are you from and we say Poland. We know that there was a lot of bad history here, people caught in the middle of conflict. This is a place of suffering. The largest synagogue in the area was 15 km (9 mi) away at Orla and the blue Russian Orthodox Church in our village is from 1769. Some 85% of our village is Russian Orthodox,' he further said.

At first, they started helping the people in protests against entering the Bialowieza forest, Syller said, as everything was organized on social media. They created a storeroom and workshop for clothes, equipment and food which were collected from across Poland.

Green light

'When the first people arrived at our house, I realized they were moving during the night, so I started shining a green light outside the house and used social and useful media to promote this. This was a small lightbulb, 10 watts. The green light campaign spread across Poland very quickly and internationally, with people from the UK, France, Brazil, and other countries showing immense interest. It became the symbol of helping refugees. The small town of Michalowa officially joined our campaign,' he said.

'When people started to get lost in the forest, we started to go and look for them, but suddenly two or three border guards appeared after our neighbor called them. It was a race for the lives of those refugees. When we came back to the house by car, we saw a large group of cars and police, they found the refugees at our house, a group of 10 people with kids and pushed them back over the border. One girl was taken to hospital,' Syller added.

The large majority of refugees, he said, do not speak European languages, but they know 'they are being tricked and take the risk anyway.'

He also talked about a neighbor who he claimed was influenced by 'state propaganda that the refugees were criminals or terrorists, rich and economic migrants.' He, however, changed his mind later and now supports the green light campaign, Syller said. He also knows that 'something bad' is happening in the forest.

'The Polish border guards acted like criminals. They were brutal, beating, stealing, denying water to the refugees. One woman border guard who is well-known in this area forced refugees to undress in front of her, for no reason. The Border Guards regard us as human traffickers. I was interrogated for three hours at the local border guards' office. They played a good cop, bad cop. A lot of fear was involved,' he concluded.

According to Grupa Granica, a network of Polish activists helping refugees coming into Poland from Belarus, at least 37 deaths have been confirmed in the border area and almost 300 people reported missing since the crisis at the border began in late 2021.

Less than 1% of illegal migrants entered the EU through the bloc's 6,000-km (3,000-mi) land border with Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Russia, and its eastern member states, according to Frontex, the EU's border agency

At the peak of refugees coming into Europe in 2015, only 1,927 illegal border crossings were recorded on the EU's eastern border. More than 764,000 people used the Western Balkan route and nearly 885,400 the Eastern Mediterranean route in 2015 alone, according to the Center for Strategic Communications and Information Security.

Source: Anadolu Agency