Written by Staff Writer, CNN
Thousands of children running unaccompanied from their families have reportedly been seeking shelter in churches, schools and government buildings across Belarus, Poland and Belarus over the past two weeks, as tensions mount between the two countries.
More than 3,600 unaccompanied minors and their families have been turned away from the border into Belarus, according to the Russian news agency Novaya Gazeta , raising concern among politicians that the crisis may pose a security risk.
The children are seen flooding the churches and public buildings in Slaviansk, Krasnodar, and Tychy — towns on the southwestern outskirts of the countries — which are located near their respective borders.
Denis Zorba, mayor of Tychy, told Novaya Gazeta the crisis “resembles a life in the jungle and could affect our country’s security,” because children could end up being used as migrant workers and become prey for crime.
Another Tychy official said church officials and students had been asked to help look after the children, but had had no instructions in what they could do.
“First we were asked to take the children to our schools and then churches,” a Tychy school administrator told the newspaper. “We are volunteers and sent a lot of young volunteers with us on Sunday morning, but without directions on what to do.”
Even cities like Zolkovei, where officials have set up tents to temporarily house the children, have struggled to get the attention of politicians.
Images showed children huddled inside a tent in a Zolkovei park last Friday, where a makeshift clinic and medical center had been set up.
Deputy Minister of Health of Belarus, Vladimir Woynyanski, said he had taken part in a six-hour meeting with the Slaviansk city officials, but would not elaborate on the discussions.
The state-run Belarus News Agency reported Tuesday that the state of emergency authorities had been forced to send some of the children back to Belarus “because of the lack of places for them.”
Sources in Moscow told Novaya Gazeta they were concerned about an influx of immigrants to Belarus that could destabilize the situation.
In an address to the parliament Monday, President Alexander Lukashenko criticized Poland’s plans to close its border to migrants.
“It’s illegal to do this to Belarus,” Lukashenko said. “Even the U.N. won’t allow this, because it’s an unconstitutional measure.”
He added, “We’re not so much worried about what happens if Poland lets these people pass, we’re more concerned about what will happen if the other countries allow them to enter.”
The relocation of refugees and asylum seekers from Syria and Afghanistan across the European Union into Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia and other countries on the Western Balkan route has led to a growing number of refugees and asylum seekers attempting to cross the Balkans into countries closer to Europe, such as Serbia and Hungary.
The relocation of asylum seekers has since been suspended by the European Commission in Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia, citing violations of the EU quotas.