“Over half a year after he regained his freedom, my son is still plagued by nightmares. Almost every night he wakes up crying. The most frequently recurring dreams are about men wearing masks who beat him up. I myself also suffer from nightmares. On such occasions, I dream that somebody is strangling me and that somebody always turns out to be Polish Border Guard,” says a Chechen woman whom Polish authorities wish to deport with her family.
Back in Chechnya, we lived in a house which sported a garden full of fruit trees – there were peaches, nectarines, apples, and nuts. I taught English in an elementary school and, in addition to that, organized private classes. My husband worked as a taxi driver. We were not particularly wealthy but I never had to worry about what I would give my children to eat the way I sometimes do now. We were just a regular family.
All of a sudden, a dozen or so years after [the Chechen] war, when it seemed that we could resume peaceful life without fear, the authorities apparently decided that all men in my husband’s family posed a threat to them. His elder brother and cousin took part in the second Chechen war.
First, they killed the cousin. Then the brother was taken away, beaten up, and tortured until he broke down and eventually died. After that, they killed my husband’s other brother. They also started taking my husband away. They would break into our house in the middle of the night. Sometimes there was as many of them as ten. They wore black masks and there were no insignia on their uniforms.
Back then, my son was already seven and he was capable of understanding many things. He saw them break down the door to our house, push him down to the floor, and then drag him to a room. He heard his father being struck and howling in agony. Then there would be silence all of a sudden.
I told him that I could not stand living in fear like that anymore
I was never certain where my husband was or if he would return. When they took him the last time, I was pregnant and the risk of losing the baby was high. I do not know how I managed to give birth to a healthy child in the end. My husband met his second son for the first time after almost a year had passed.
When he did return to us in the end, there were scars and open wounds all over his body. I said that I had had enough and I could not live like that anymore. We fled soon afterwards. We did it one night close to the end of March. It was quite cold.
We travelled to Moscow by car and then took a train to Belarus. It was crowded in Brest and there is only one train per day so either you managed to squeeze your way on board of it or you stayed where you were. You need to buy a round trip ticket because if you didn’t manage to make your way into Poland and were send back, there would be nowhere to buy one.
We met people who had been sent away with nothing thirty times in a row. Sometimes even forty. If you were able to afford it, you got private accommodation for 12 Euro or stayed at a hotel for 25 Euro. If you could not afford it, you just slept at the station.
We got incredibly lucky – they let us through on our second attempt. We were sent to a reception centre in Biała Podlaska and then we moved to Warsaw. Our son started going to school there and quickly learned Polish. I was happy that he was at peace.
After we received a negative decision, we escaped to Germany
Our application for international protection was denied and we were obliged to leave Poland and return to Chechnya but nobody told us that it was not the end for us, that we could appeal against the decision. We were so frightened that we simply fled to Germany. We know now that it was a serious mistake but we just panicked.
After four months in Germany, we were sent back to Poland and ended up in a detention center. Every time we changed means of transport, which probably happened around five times, my husband and I were taken for a screening separately. I had to undress completely, even removing my bra and panties, and then squat so that they could make sure that I wasn’t hiding anything between my legs. Fortunately, they only made our children take off their jackets and shoes. It was a cold September and I was worried that they would get cold. Our elder son wept all the way.
We underwent one last search after we arrived at the center. They checked our luggage and took away our phones for safekeeping. A small room served as our accommodation.
They carried out a head count at 8 a.m. and then at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.
There was a nursery school in a classroom on a higher floor. There was one teacher for all children, regardless of their age, and all classes were held in one room. Being a teacher myself, I asked the teacher about his curriculum. He had none.
Even though there was enough food, I always had to cook it some more because I did not want my children to eat half-raw meat and undercooked potatoes.
They counted us at 8 a.m., 7 p.m., and 10 p.m. They didn’t even bother to knock – they would just barge in through the door and count us as if we were heads of cattle to be taken stock of. Once, I asked a guard: “What if I am in the middle of changing my clothes?” He just shrugged his shoulders and left. I moved the wardrobe to have at least some privacy.
Our eldest son refused to leave the bed. I brought meals and a chamber pot to him. He lost eight kilos, becoming all eyes and bones. We had waited for three months for an appointment with a psychiatrist. We were delivered there under guard.
The doctor prescribed some antidepressants for him and made a note in the documents of the case saying that a child in such a state should not be kept locked away.
My son is still plagued by nightmares
I asked to talk to the warden. He said: “The kid is taking his medicines and he will be all right, don’t blow this out of proportion, lady.” So I wrote an official request for being released. They answered that it was a provocation and that it was us who ordered our child to stay in the room all the time because we wanted to be set free earlier.
I persisted until they eventually set up another meeting with the psychiatrist. The doctor once again wrote that every day at the center worsens our son’s phobias. It was then that they let us go.
Over half a year after he regained his freedom, my son is still plagued by nightmares. Almost every night he wakes up crying. The most frequently recurring dreams are about men wearing masks who beat him up. I myself also suffer from nightmares. On such occasions, I dream that somebody is strangling me and that somebody always turns out to be Polish Border Guard
Text: Magdalena Olga Olszewska
Translation: Michał Zwoliński
Drawing: Daniel Chmielewski