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Four-year-old Iraqi girl goes missing along Poland-Belarus border

Polish border guards say search for missing girl is underway, while humanitarian groups say efforts are inadequate
An estimated 4,000 people have been stuck on the Belarus-Poland border for weeks while attempting to cross into the European Union
An estimated 4,000 people have been stuck on the Belarus-Poland border for weeks while attempting to cross into the European Union (AFP)

A four-year-old Iraqi girl is believed to have gone missing in an icy forest after being separated from her parents during a scuffle with Polish border guards, with thousands of people - including scores of Iraqis - stranded on Belarus' border with Poland.

Humanitarian groups reported on Wednesday that the Iraqi girl, Eileen, was separated from her parents after they breached the border into Poland on Monday night.

The parents handed their daughter to another adult migrant when Polish border guards approached and pushed them back into Belarus, and the girl was last seen with the person accompanying her near the Polish frontier village of Nowy Dwor.

"This girl is probably either already dead or will die very soon. The most dramatic thing is that if it was a Polish child, the whole country would be looking for her," said Kasia Kosciesza from Families without Borders, a charity group.

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"The search should have started as soon as they knew of the situation... Chances are diminishing, night is setting in again and temperatures will start falling, so if we want to rescue her, it needs to happen immediately."

Border Guard spokeswoman Anna Michalska said service personnel started searching for the girl as soon as they received the information she was missing, around midday on Tuesday.

"Extra patrols were directed to the area where the girl was supposed to be. We also searched from the air using helicopters, but we found no one," Michalska said.

Campaigners, however, said the authorities' efforts were inadequate.

Under new rules introduced after a state of emergency in the migrant crisis expired last week, activists who are not residents in the border area cannot enter to help with any search.

Poland has sealed off the region along its border with Belarus to outsiders, as it has sought to keep out thousands of people, mostly from the Middle East, who travelled to Belarus in the hope of crossing into the European Union.

The EU accuses Belarus of flying them into the country and then pushing them to cross into Poland and - to a lesser extent - Lithuania and Latvia, in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Minsk over human rights abuses.

International organisations have also accused Poland's right-wing nationalist government of breaching humanitarian standards in forcing some people back into Belarus, a charge that Warsaw denies.

On Monday, there were 116 attempts to cross the border into Poland, compared with a total of 501 attempts reported since 17 November.

An estimated 4,000 people have been stuck on the Belarus-Poland border for weeks while attempting to cross into the European Union, until Iraq last month initiated repatriation flights for a number of them.

At least 11 migrants have died due to the harsh winter conditions on the border, including a one-year-old Syrian boy.