I survived crossing the Poland-Belarus border: a testimony

My name is Ola Sabah Hamad. I am a mother of four children and I want to tell you my story. I come from Baghdad. Living in my homeland is very difficult, especially for families who dream of a peaceful life. I was unable to feel free there with my children, but what’s more important, I couldn’t keep them safe.


Everyone knows about what happened in Iraq after the fall of ISIS. The country has become an area of relentless conflicts and terrorist militias have seized power. As a female, I had no right and freedom of making my own choices and expressing my opinions. I wasn’t shown any respect because in a patriarchal and conservative society women’s rights are never respected. 

I was in a very dark place and I wanted to live in the light of the day. It was this dream that led me to the decision of taking the path through the forest. I wanted to raise my children away from danger, racism and religious conflicts. I wanted them to be able to choose how they want to live and to whom they want to pray. So that they can grow up in peace and learn what it means to be a human. 

poland-belarus border

After coming to Belarus, I tried to get to Poland numerous times. Both sides threw us over the border like a ball and we became more and more exhausted and desperate. We had no water or food. We begged the Belarusian border guards for water for the children. However, they reacted with fury and chased us to the Polish side, setting the dogs on us. My children screamed and cried out of fear of the soldiers. All I saw in the eyes of the people around us was despair. Since then, politics and power have very bad connotations for me. We were only pawns in the hands of officials from both sides. Who, by the way, do not differ from each other.

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After facing many struggles, when we finally managed to cross the border, we decided to expose ourselves to danger. We asked for asylum in Poland. Unfortunately, we were not welcomed kindly.

We had been kept in a Border Guard facility for 8 days. Then they took us to a closed camp in Biała Podlaska. This camp looked like a prison: high walls, barbed wire, cameras following our every step. All of our belongings were taken from us, including our phones. Every day we used to wake up because of the screams of prisoners. Many people were mentally unable to cope with the extremely confined spaces. Any person staying there for a while was starting to lose their mind. Children and women suffered the most – some dealt with suicidal thoughts, others tried to turn them into actions. Panic attacks, outbursts of anger, and chronic depression were very common even among the youngest. Why are we treated like this after all the torments we have already experienced? Are we criminals? Why do children have to live in prison-like spaces for months? 

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After two hunger strikes and numerous interventions on behalf of lawyers, psychologists, activists as well as the ombudsman office officials, my family was finally transferred into an open facility, where our freedom is less restricted. However, I will not be able to enjoy my freedom fully. There are still other families who are struggling both in the forests and closed facilities. 

I am addressing my request to all honest, decent people to intercede for innocent refugees and migrants. We need your support. Do not remain indifferent. Help me protect my friends and loved ones, support us in our longing for a life in peace. We are all humans and we all have the same rights. 

I would also like to thank those, who have supported and protected us from the inevitable death in cold forests. To those who through their activism and work demand rights for refugees and migrants. 

I wish You all the best,
Ola Hamad

Learn more about Ola Hamad’s story. Watch a material published by Dzień Dobry TVN in polish >>>

Photo: Grupa Granica.


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