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Belarus steps back as U.S., G7 demand end to "callous" treatment of migrants and refugees in Poland border crisis

Migrant crisis, weather take toll on families
Emotional Syrian mother who suffered miscarriage alone in migrant camp dreams of reuniting family 02:20

Bielsk Podlaski, Poland — The foreign ministers of the world's Big-7 economies formally condemned Belarus on Thursday over the migrant crisis along its border with Poland. Overnight, Polish authorities said they had detained about 100 people trying to cross into Poland from Belarus.

Belarus' Russian-backed regime has said it is trying to de-escalate the tense situation along its border with the European Union by flying some of the thousands of migrants who came to the country, hoping to cross onto EU soil, back home on repatriation flights.

Autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko's government has also set up at least one warehouse, away from the border, as a temporary shelter for dozens of migrants, where they have been moved and offered food and water. But it comes after weeks of outrage from European nations, which accuse him of "instrumentalizing" irregular immigration in his standoff with the EU.

Irregular migrants at Belarus-Polish border
A woman and her child are seen in a shelter near the Bruzgi border checkpoint with neighboring Poland, as irregular migrants continue to wait at the border during cold weather on November 18, 2021 in Grodno, Belarus, hoping to cross into the EU. Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty

"These callous acts are putting people's lives at risk," the G7, which is the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, said in a joint statement on Thursday. "We are united in our solidarity with Poland, as well as Lithuania and Latvia, who have been targeted by this provocative use of irregular migration as a hybrid tactic. We call on the regime to cease immediately its aggressive and exploitative campaign in order to prevent further deaths and suffering."

But as CBS News senior foreign correspondent Charlie D'Agata reports, many families are still suffering — stuck in frigid conditions in the no-man's land along Belarus' border with Poland.

The European Union and the U.S. have accused Lukashenko of luring thousands of migrants and refugees, most of them from the Middle East, to his country with easy travel — and the suggestion that they could then cross into the EU via the Polish border and claim asylum.

Hundreds have been stopped, but many people have made it out of the makeshift border camp in Belarus — dubbed "the Jungle" by those unlucky enough to have spent days, even weeks there — and across the barbed wire fence into Poland.

Migrant crisis at Poland-Belarus border could last months, Poland’s defense minister warns 03:08

On the other side, however, there's only more frozen forest — and thousands of Polish border authorities.

At least eight people are believed to have died trying to make the crossing, but exact numbers, given the length and remoteness of the border and Polish authorities banning journalists and aid workers from getting close to it, are unclear.

Many of those lucky enough to be rescued by humanitarian organizations operating on the Polish side are found in desperate conditions, some having trekked through the freezing woods for days with little or no food.

Irregular migrants at Belarus-Polish border
Irregular migrants are seen at a camp in Belarus near a fence along the Polish-Belarusian border, during cold weather on November 18, 2021 in Grodno, Belarus. Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty

CBS News met one woman at a hospital in northeast Poland who was found in the forest, said to be pregnant and suffering from hypothermia. She was typical of the patients Dr. Arsalan Azzaddin sees coming in every night.

They show up suffering from "dehydration, hypothermia and fractures," he told D'Agata, but many also have bodily injuries suggesting they'd been beaten.
Rouba, from the Syrian capital of Damascus, suffered a miscarriage between her escape Belarus and hiding out in Poland. She said she had to use water from a ditch to mix formula for her 18-month-old baby.  

In a normal environment, a hospital might serve as a sanctuary for families like hers. But this is not a normal environment. Rouba told CBS News that she was separated from her husband and daughters, who were taken to a detention facility. She hasn't spoken with them since.

"All I want to do is hug my kids again and travel with them to Germany," she told D'Agata.

Now she's suffering from a COVID-19 infection, too. Like thousands of others who've been made unwilling pawns in the faceoff between Eastern and Western Europe, Rouba faces an uncertain future, and it's entirely out of her hands.

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