After helping his own family, a Kurd aids others in Poland

·3-min read

After seven members of his own family managed to cross the border from Belarus into the European Union, Aras Palani spends his days and nights helping other migrants stuck in the forest.

Palani, a 49-year-old Iraqi Kurd, fled Saddam Hussein's regime 20 years ago, ending up in Britain where he gained citizenship.

"I tried to bring my family to UK. I tried so many ways. I didn't succeed," Palani told AFP, sitting in the kitchen of a migrant centre in Bialystok in eastern Poland where he helps out.

"When I heard about Minsk, I wanted to try that way," he said.

The EU and the US have accused the Belarusian government of engineering the migrant influx, and Poland has taken a hard line.

The government has sent thousands of soldiers and police to help border guards block the migrants and send them back across.

Poland has also instituted an emergency regime which bans journalists and aid workers from the immediate border area.

Regardless, Palani said he has entered the state of emergency zone to try to assist his family stuck on the Belarusian side.

"The worst time, I was just by the fence. I know I am just five minutes walk from them. I have the food and they don't have the food," he said tearfully.

- Attack dog -

Palani begged border guards to allow him to throw some food over the razor wire fence but they refused.

Instead, he was detained and ordered to pay a fine.

On the Belarusian side, Palani said his family was "really badly treated by the Belarusian police".

"In one incident, they let the dog on them. The dog went to the boy, my grandson, and my daughter she covered her son and the dog bit on her shoulder," he said.

In total, his family camped out for around a dozen days in the forest, being sent back and forth by Polish and Belarusian forces.

"In one night, eight times they ping-ponged my family. It was really hard, it was unbelievable," he said.

Palani's family is now safe and he has just been to see his daughter who is staying, with two other members of his family, in a migrant centre in Poland.

His wife and son-in-law are already in Switzerland, while a son and his wife are still hiding in the forest on the Polish side of the border.

"I'm sending them some food when I can," he said.

Palani has given out his contacts on Facebook and his three phones constantly ring during the day and particularly at night when people attempt to cross the border.

He works with Polish charities helping migrants who have crossed the border and the state of emergency zone by providing them with warm clothes, food, medicine and legal aid.

- 'Arras 24/7' -

"My nickname is Arras 24/7 and the reason for that? My phone always on, my laptop always on," he said.

On the border, Palani's skills are invaluable as he speaks a total of 12 languages and dialects.

In his words, Belarus is using migrants as a "stone" against the European Union but he also believes they should have the right to claim asylum.

He knows of many cases where migrants in dire circumstances were pushed back and is visibly moved by the human drama that has become his daily life.

"I haven't cried for so many years. Since I've been here, I cry five times a week," he said.

Palani would like to see his family reunited one day in a country that can grant them all asylum.

For the moment, he plans to stay in Poland "as long as people here need me".

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