In the small Polish town of Bohoniki, a young Syrian, Ahmed Al Hasan, was buried on Monday.
The 19-year-old man died in a river in late October in this freezing, forested buffer zone where thousands of migrants and asylum seekers have been sent by the Belarus government to try to break through into Poland and the European Union.
Bohoniki, the historic home of Poland’s Muslim Tatar minority, has a mosque and an imam able to conduct the funeral services for Mr. Hasan, who was from Homs, Syria.
Fida al-Hasan, a Syrian doctor who lives in the nearby town of Bialystok, came to the funeral with his father, who was visiting from Canada. “I came to Bohoniki mosque to pray,” Mr. Al-Hasan said. “We came here today because it is our duty to pray for the soul of this boy. He has no family here.”
Mr. Hasan’s fate was not unique. Two Syrians found late Sunday by aid workers, and seen by The New York Times, had been stranded in the forest straddling the Polish-Belarusian border for days and were in an advanced stage of hypothermia. With their faces half-frozen and their lips blue from the cold, they were barely able to utter a word to the aid workers who found them.
“They had been in the forest for at least four days,” said Agata Kolodziej from Fundacja Ocalenie, a Polish charity that has been helping migrants since September. “They only told us their names. We don’t know anything more.”
The brothers, Layous, 41 and Khedr, 39, were also from Homs. A medical worker helped to carry the brothers to an ambulance parked on the edge of an unlit road next to Orla, Poland, about 15 miles from the border, the aid workers said.
The Polish activists, whose phone numbers have been circulating among migrants at the border, said they were receiving several messages a day from migrants over the past two months, including from the Syrian brothers. But since last week, the activists’ phones have gone largely silent, and aid workers have seen few signs of migrants on the Polish side.
Instead, among the only sign of migrants managing to cross the border, passing through one of Europe’s oldest and densest forests, are objects that aid workers and residents have found on daily patrols: a backpack filled with documents and passport pictures; an empty tuna can with a Belarusian label; a Cham Wings boarding pass for a flight between Damascus and Minsk; an ophthalmologist prescription written in Arabic.
Still, as the funeral proceeded in Bohoniki, Belarusian forces were massing large groups of migrants and encouraging them to force their way across the border at Kuznica-Bruzgi, a 15-minute drive to the northeast. There, Polish troops and police officers were deployed in long lines to defend the border, which is festooned with large spirals of razor wire.
A video sent to The New York Times by Nishan Abdulqadr Mustafa, a 25-year-old Kurd from Iraq who is on the Belarusian side of the border, showed hundreds of migrants stranded outside the checkpoint at Kuznica-Bruzgi.
“We are going to Poland,” he said. “It is just too cold, we cannot take it anymore.”