On the 8.28 a.m. train to Terespol, a Polish town at the border with Belarus, Ali watches the barely changing landscape with indifference. This might be the twentieth time he has taken this train with his wife and three kids. Or maybe the twenty-first, he cannot quite remember.
Ali, a well-built young man with dark eyes and a doleful smile, is a member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT). He is also one of countless Tajiks forced to flee his homeland due to a wave of political repression, including a ban of the IRPT in September 2015.
Escape from Tajikistan has taken people like Ali through Belarus and up to the edge of the European Union, where they have found the door slammed in their face.
The unwritten rule for those without visas and hoping to claim asylum in Poland is to travel in the crowded final sleeper carriage. Some of the passengers chat in the dark, others are frozen, anxiously waiting. Maybe this will be the time they are allowed into Poland. Ali’s children play and misbehave. They have taken this route so often it has almost become a daily routine.
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Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska is a freelance journalist covering the post-Soviet space.