A group of people who crossed into Poland from Belarus are taken to a detention centre in outside Narewka, Poland in November 2021 [Kacper Pempel/Reuters]
Białystok, Poland – Mahir* and Hasan* wove their way through a forest in eastern Poland. It had been a dry start to the spring, and the branches and leaves rustled and cracked under their boots.

Just a week earlier, the two had met for the first time at a mutual friend’s dingy student accommodation on a sunny March afternoon in Moscow.

Mahir, a 40-year-old computer engineer from Yemen, had immediately warmed to the 30-year-old Sudanese architect’s cheerful disposition and forthright attitude. A meticulous planner, Hasan, who turned up dressed in jeans, hiking boots and a white jacket, exuded an air of confidence and optimism that had immediately put Mahir at ease.

But now, as they stopped to catch their breath and scan their unfamiliar surroundings, Mahir noted a flicker of concern flash across Hasan’s face. They had just succeeded in crossing into the European Union via Belarus, the final stage of a journey that had started in their respective homelands, where they had faced persecution and political unrest. This was the part they had not planned for. As they stood silently in a sprawling ancient wilderness, they felt a growing realisation that their journey to safety was far from over.

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