Guest post: What's it like at the border?

edward holford walker.JPG

We're really excited to bring you a special guest post from Edward Holford-Walker.

Edward was in the British Army and was stationed for six months near to the Belarusian-Polish border. He now works for accountancy firm KPMG and recently volunteered with Topical Talk.

We asked Edward to tell us a bit more about the conditions and decisions faced by those involved in this news story.


Can you tell us about the weather conditions the people at the border are facing?

As we get closer to winter, the temperatures will drop significantly.  I spent six months in the area, not too far from Kuznica when posted there with the British Army as part of the Enhanced Forward Presence of NATO*.  Whilst the summers are wonderfully hot, the winters can be extremely cold. Migrants will find the temperatures in the evenings extremely difficult to bear, particularly in the damp forest on the border.  It seems that Belarus is now moving migrants into warehouses, which is timely given that there are clear signs that many migrants are already showing cases of frostnip and frostbite.

*NATO stands for North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and is an military alliance between 28 European countries.


What decisions do the armed forces at the border face? What makes these decisions difficult?

On the one hand, the Polish armed forces must follow orders to defend the country’s borders.  On the other hand, they will feel a moral obligation to provide aid to refugees and asylum-seekers.  As conditions get worse, both harsher weather conditions and growing frustrations of the migrants are likely to raise tensions and create the potential for violence, which many think may be encouraged by Belarus.

With an ever-changing situation and an abundance of mis and disinformation, it can be extremely difficult for the Polish soldiers to know exactly what is happening around them.  Any wrong or poorly informed reaction could have serious consequences.  The Polish soldiers must remember that there is a real threat of war breaking out should the situation escalate rapidly.  If violence occurs and the Polish army react, either with migrants or Belarussian forces, a military incident is likely to be met with escalated force from Belarus.  With the EU and NATO on the side of Poland and Russia on the side of Belarus, there is a danger that this could end in a conflict between NATO and Russia. 


Were you ever in a situation, anywhere, that brought you into contact with migrants and/or asylum seekers during your time in the armed forces? What decisions had to be taken then? Did you feel responsible for their welfare?

As a soldier, we regularly train for situations where there are or could be dispersed persons.  We need to learn to act in a way that is both understanding to the migrants / asylum-seekers but that are also within our orders and the law.  It can be really difficult to not get involved in politics when you are in that situation, particularly when you personally feel for the migrants’ cause and welfare.  The best we can do in these situations is to remain as calm as possible and stay aware of the situation.  It is the job of the officers to let their soldiers know exactly what they must and must not do so that they can react quickly and in an appropriate and lawful way.


Thank you very much to Edward Holford-Walker for his insightful answers.

What's the most important thing you have learnt from Edward's answers? Add a comment below.

"The most important thing I learnt was..."

Comments (18)

  • British Council.jpg pioneering_wilddog | Jabalia Prep Girls A School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    26 Nov 2021

    The most important thing I learned, is that a soldier must listen to what the commander says literally. Especially if he's in a situation like Edward was, but that's unfair because it makes the soldier think, Can I break orders?? What will happen if you break it?? But, is it okay to leave these people without help?? And can something so small really cause a big war?? Therefore, the commander must always tell the soldiers all the details of the mission, and why they must abide by all his orders, to maintain the stability of the mission, until their success in carrying it out to the fullest.

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  • British Council.jpg compassionate_explanation | Beit Hanoun Prep Girls A School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    26 Nov 2021

    The most important thing I have learned is that calm is the solution to avoid global problems, as the soldier says, they must remain calm and they must be calm and not take the initiative to react and control themselves because they are not aware of everything that is happening around them, misunderstandings may occur and the soldiers are not calm and initiate their reaction and be Disastrous consequences for both countries, whether global or local war or tension between them permanently, so they have to be calm and we must learn from them and we remain calm in our lives and act wisely to avoid problems in our lives

    Reply to this comment
  • British Council.jpg wondrous_flight | Beit Hanoun Prep Girls A School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    27 Nov 2021

    " The most important thing I learned is to think of all sides as he said that he should work as Polish forces say to them and feel the migrants / seekers asylum in terms of where they will go or will they be happy in the state, and this is indicative of the intensity of their attention "

    Reply to this comment
  • British Council.jpg champion_seed | Shouka Prep Girls School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    28 Nov 2021

    The most important thing I have learned is that a person, soldier, immigrant or asylum seeker must be well trained and prepared and take all his precautions and needs before going out anywhere and taking everything he needs and he will feel lacking, so he must put it, so as not to embarrass himself with anyone? Or if there comes a time when he will need help from a person, and this person does not have what he asked for, he will embarrass himself. One of the most important people among the brackets (soldier) is that he has everything he needs from water, food, blankets, because he is the person who works morning and night In order for him to perform all his duties as a military soldier who wants to preserve his homeland from the enemy, and before leaving his home or his launch site, he must wear heavy, balanced clothes because on the borders it is cold even in summer, until the mission is completed successfully.

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  • British Council.jpg fulfilled_peach | Shouka Prep Girls School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    28 Nov 2021

    The most important thing I have learned is that a soldier must train regularly for situations in which he is or may be scattered soldier. And that he must hear the words of his commander; Because the commander always tell the soldiers all the important details. If the information is tiny, the soldiers must know it so that he won't be like Edward. And that the soldiers must be committed to calm so as not to distract attention on the battlefield and anywhere. And finally, the wisdom of my article as Napoleon said: “A soldier will fight long and hard for a piece of colorful scarf.”

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  • British Council.jpg healthy_antelope | Beit Hanoun Prep Girls A School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    29 Nov 2021

    "The most important thing I've learned is that soldiers in general don't just have to learn military matters that include combat and these things, but also political knowledge in order to analyze every action they do and how it will affect negatively and positively, and how they can solve the matter without negative influence, that is, within the limits of the law established by the military force,Also, since the officers are responsible for making decisions, why do they not develop the method of communication between the officers and thus discuss the big issues that the officers cannot make a firm decision about,I am not saying that the officers do not know, but rather that they know, but there are situations regarding immigrants in which reason will play between humanity and political rationality,This may make the officer nervous and feel responsible towards the migrants. I think that it is better to discuss the matter with the officers via a radio, explaining to them the responses they should take in these situations and explaining to them why,Until they give the decision and are sure that they did the right thing for their country

    Reply to this comment
    1. Olivia-Avatar.jpg Olivia @ Topical Talk
      healthy_antelope's comment 29 Nov 2021

      What might be some of the challenges with this type of communication?

      Reply to this comment
  • British Council.jpg convivial_vegetable | Beit Hanoun Prep Girls A School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    29 Nov 2021

    The most important thing I've learned is 1-Follow orders to defend the country's borders
    2- Helping refugees and asylum seekers
    3- We need to learn to behave in a manner that is understanding of immigrants
    4- Controlling what should and should not do so that they can respond quickly and in an appropriate and legal manner.

    Reply to this comment
  • British Council.jpg inventive_violin | Jabalia Prep Girls A School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    29 Nov 2021

    The most important thing I learned is that the soldier works a lot in order to protect his country. In war, we hear the sound of explosions and we are afraid, but we do not know that the soldiers are fighting these explosions to protect us. I also learned that the soldier serves in regular service or in reserve service, and the soldier undergoes training and rehabilitation in order to be able to protect His state was directly (combat) or indirectly (not combative) and to serve the interests of his state. I also learned that the soldier must be brave and courageous and does not fear anything. He stands in the darkest nights and faces the monsters that are in the mountains and on the borders of the state and does not care For all that, then he stands in the battle with his head raised proudly and does not see around him anything but fire and gunpowder, but he refuses but to be that man who carries for his homeland what many like him cannot, and perhaps we will ask ourselves this question: What if there was no army of soldiers defending the country? What if the people of the country are the only ones defending it? Let us take this possibility into consideration and say that the country does not have an army, and when an attack occurs on that country, all its men go out to defend it without prior preparation, and an army will attack it from somewhere. What I will tell you is that a soldier is like water in life very important and irreplaceable .

    Reply to this comment
  • British Council.jpg excellent_snow | Shouka Prep Girls School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    29 Nov 2021

    The most important thing I learned is that a soldier does not care about anything and defends his country: They also work to help refugees. They sacrifice themselves to protect us, they don't care about death or anything. The soldier trains a lot for his great responsibility and leaves confusion and tension and thinks of our souls. We really have to give them more thanks and appreciation. The soldier should listen to what the commander says and focus on it well, because he will need to talk a lot later.

    Reply to this comment
  • British Council.jpg aware_painting | Shouka Prep Girls School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    30 Nov 2021

    The most important thing I learned is that the area is located on the border, and it is a lawless area. At any moment things can explode and an armed escalation occurs. The soldiers who are there, whether they feel humanity towards the migrants or not, will not change anything. Because these soldiers are each looking for the security of their borders and they are waiting for orders to do everything they are ordered to do. We do not forget that the conditions of the migrants are difficult, especially in the winter season, they suffer from a lot of cold and frost, little food and drink, and sleeping in the open, and no one looks at them...

    Reply to this comment
  • British Council.jpg appreciative_pear | Shouka Prep Girls School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    30 Nov 2021

    Mr. Edward Holford, I have a question for you, for example, if you were appointed commander of an army and faced situations, challenges and difficulties, would you give in to them and how would you maintain the cohesion of the army?

    Reply to this comment
  • British Council.jpg dynamic_bilberry | Shouka Prep Girls School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    01 Dec 2021

    The most important thing I learned from the story is that a person has to be patient and take the right decision for the benefit of the general public and not for his own benefit, and this applies to the commander's orders to soldiers. I see that it is sometimes possible for a soldier to disobey the command of the commander if it harms the public interest. Therefore, the soldier in all cases does not obey all orders, and this is what we see from the soldiers who spend their lives on the borders to secure security and peace for humanity and live a life free of wars and destruction.

    Reply to this comment
    1. katie.jpg Katie @ Topical Talk
      dynamic_bilberry's comment 02 Dec 2021

      What might happen to a soldier that disobeys orders?

      Reply to this comment
      1. British Council.jpg dynamic_bilberry | Shouka Prep Girls School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
        Katie @ Topical Talk's comment 08 Dec 2021

        I believe that the soldier who violates the orders of the commander is subject to an investigation report and therefore is transferred to the Public Prosecution and a military court is set up and he is judged according to what the arbitration and defense committee deems appropriate for violating the orders, and according to my belief, he is also stripped of his military uniform

        Reply to this comment
  • British Council.jpg lovely_groundhog | Shouka Prep Girls School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    02 Dec 2021

    The most we can do in these situations is to be as calm as possible. It can be really hard not to get involved in the situation, especially when we are personally feeling the story of the immigrants, their lives and their well-being.

    Reply to this comment
  • British Council.jpg appreciative_pear | Shouka Prep Girls School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    03 Dec 2021

    The most important thing I learned from Edward's answers is not to give up in difficult situations, to be calm and sometimes calm is a solution to problems and to listen to the orders of the commander in the army

    Reply to this comment
  • British Council.jpg imaginative_starfish | Shouka Prep Girls School | Occupied Palestinian Territory
    06 Dec 2021

    The most important thing I learned from Edward is that when there is tension, anxiety and the fabrication of violence, everyone believes that Belarus encourages it. This is an important point for Belarus and to clarify it for those who believe this. Also, they study alone before taking any step for fear of dire consequences. This also indicates the justice and wisdom of the Belarusian president, and that they are also afraid of The outbreak of a war between them and the Poles, and also if the matter escalates further, there is a risk that this will end in a conflict between Nano and Russia

    Reply to this comment

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