A Polish border tragedy
Another year, another border.
I am out in south-east Poland with the border guards.
Their camera-van sits in a snowy field surrounded by hayricks, scanning for anyone trying to cross the border illegally.
With such a long border it seems an almost hopeless task and the amount of money spent here just doesn’t compare with the cash pumped into the Slovak border which I visited at the end of last year .
More of that side of the story in my report for the Ten O’Clock News, which I hope will go out on Friday.
Just a few miles away, the forest is like a scene from a Christmas card: tall fir trees are decorated with a scattering of snow on their branches.
It’s very beautiful. But this is treacherous country.
The last people the border guards caught, just before the holiday, were two men from Georgia . One was in a coma, the other managed to ‘phone for help before he too collapsed.
But the story that tore me up happened sometime before, in September, and was well publicised in Poland at the time.
This is what happened to thirty-six year-old Kamisa.
She is from Chechnya and wanted a better life for her four children.
She was afraid to go on living in Grozny. One of her daughters was sick and education was poor. So she decided to go to Slovakia and make her way to Austria where many of her husband’s family live.
She paid a man in Moscow $2,700. He drove her and her two-year-old son and daughters of 9, 12 and 14 for many hours.
He would not stop or let them out. Eventually he reached what he said was the border with Slovakia and let them out and told them to be on their way.
It was pouring with rain. She and the children walked from one hill to the next, until they were soaked.
Eventually they couldn’t go on any longer and stopped in a forest within sight of what turned out to be the Polish border.
They had a loaf of bread, sausage and some Snickers bars but the food was soon gone.
They had nothing to drink. There was no let-up in the wind and the rain. Her mobile phone wouldn’t work because it was saturated with rain and, although she knew her husband was texting her, she couldn’t read the messages.
She thinks she was there for four days. She didn’t want to go to get help and leave the children, for fear of animals and patrol dogs.
Her nine year-old daughter was in a coma but it was the 14 year-old who died first.
Kamisa was crying and shouting and screaming for help, but none came.
Eventually she took her boy, covered the girls with forest leaves and said goodbye.
The 12 year-old knew what was happening.
Kamisa thought it best to save one child and hoped that she would reach help in time for the others.
But she stumbled around for a while until she came on the border guards and, by the time help arrived, her three daughters had died.
She and her son have recovered and her husband has joined her in Poland where they have applied for asylum.
Few Chechen asylum seekers are granted that status but her case may be different.
In Britain at least, the authorities would portray this tragedy as a lesson in the evils of what they insist on calling “people trafficking” but perhaps it is more complex than that.
People will always want to move to safer more prosperous parts of the world. And governments and many people from those safer and more prosperous places will probably always want to stop them.
So I don’t know what to think, except that it rips me up to think of a woman stumbling around in the dark, crying over the bodies of her children who died because she wanted to give them a better life.