Syrian siblings who had crossed into Poland from Belarus were detained by border guards near the town of Siemiatycze on Tuesday, as the first snow of the winter fell on the forests around the frontier.
The brother, 24, and his 28-year-old sister, who did not want their identities be revealed, were among thousands of migrants who had travelled to Belarus in the hope of crossing into the European Union.
The EU says Minsk has engineered a migrant crisis on its eastern border to hit back against sanctions imposed by Brussels. Belarus has repeatedly denied this.
“We just want a warm place to sit,” the brother told Reuters, hiding with his sister under a snow-covered tree in the woods.
“It’s very cold …If we knew it would be like this, we would not have done it,” the sister said.
Activists wrapped the migrants in blankets in an effort to shield them from the cold.
The siblings, from Damascus, said they left Syria on Nov. 9 and only crossed into Poland late last week after being pushed by Belarusian officers. He worked as a mechanical engineer back home and she was an artist.
The brother, a former boy scout, said he used a compass rather than a mobile phone to find the way into the European Union, to avoid being tracked. He said they had enough food reserves but not enough water.
“We escaped fascism hoping for a better life and that’s it,” he said.
Activists said they helped the siblings start their asylum process in the European Union.
Poland has faced criticism from human rights activists for pushing migrants back into Belarus without allowing them to apply for international protection.
Warsaw says the migrants should be dealt with by Belarus as they are legally on its territory, and that Polish offers of humanitarian aid have been refused.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the Observatory.