We met deep inside Europe's last remaining primeval forest, where bison and wolves roam beneath ancient towering oaks. 'I am an IT professional and I had a good life,' Hussan told me. 'But now I am standing in the woods with bare feet and dirty hands.'
Hussan, 41, lived happily in the Syrian city of Homs before it was shattered by bombs, bullets and feuding militia, forcing him to flee to Turkey.
Tears flowed down his face when I asked about his family, then he spoke in English of his dream to find sanctuary in Britain. Instead, he finds himself in Bialowieza Forest, a fearful refugee hiding from Polish security forces seeking to send him back over the nearby border to Belarus.
For this is the latest front line in Europe's migration crisis. Hussan is just one of many bedraggled pawns in a cruel global power game being played by Belarus's sinister dictator Alexander Lukashenko, who has 'weaponised' migration by luring people from the Middle East and Africa to his country, then despatching them to next-door EU nations.
This policy is designed to stoke divisions and destabilise the EU in retaliation for sanctions imposed after the autocrat sparked world outcry by forcing a Ryanair passenger jet carrying an opposition activist to divert to the Belarusian capital Minsk, where he was seized and then paraded on television.
Pictured: Hussan, 41, from Syria and his pregnant wife Sarah, who spent 28 days in the Bialowieza forest
Politicians across Europe accuse Lukashenko of launching a 'hybrid war' backed by Moscow. 'Refugees and asylum-seekers are being brought to the border with the aim of intimidating Brussels and Poland,' said Marcin Swiecicki, an MP and former mayor of Warsaw. 'The situation is a tragedy.'
True. But Lukashenko's cynical tactics seem to be working, with EU countries spending millions of euros on border walls, bickering about how best to respond and the far-Right seeking to exploit the human misery for its own ends.
Taxi drivers in the Polish city of Bialystok, close to the border, told me of seeing even cars with UK licence plates arriving to pick up arrivals from Belarus. 'We see so many migrants and traffickers,' said one, called Pawel. 'You can see English, French and German plates on cars coming to collect people.'
In Germany, where police say up to 1,000 people are arriving every day, armed vigilante patrols of Right-wing extremists have been found operating at the frontier.
A record 200 crossings into Lithuania were attempted on one day recently. Others have begun trying to reach Europe via Ukraine.
Two months ago I reported in The Mail on Sunday about the surge into Lithuania, but focus has shifted to Poland. Officials logged 16,800 efforts at illegal entry last month – four times more each day than for the whole of last year. Hussan was in a group of 20 people from Iraq, Egypt and Syria whom I found sitting around small fires, craving food and dry clothes while drinking water from a small stream.
Pictured: Ali Abd Alwareth, 24, from Lebanon sits in the woods outside the Emergency State zone at the Polish-Belarusian border and waits for arrival of Border Guard patrol, October 22, 2021
He said he had been pushed back and forth over the frontier four times in a fortnight in a grotesque game of human ping-pong being played by Polish and Belarus guards. Others said they were bounced over the border 20 times. There are reports of beatings, injured migrants ejected from Polish hospitals and families trapped in a militarised no-man's land on the Belarus side. At least ten people have died and many more lives are at risk as winter temperatures plummet.
'I'm so tired and it's so cold that I am shaking,' said Hussan. 'We are scared at night because of the wild animals so we hide our heads under our clothes.'
He spent all his £1,000 savings to get here. 'Life is a disaster. We've gone from our home in Syria to being trapped between two borders because no one wants us in their country. But we are human too.'
Hussan left his wife and four children in Turkey. But his group included an Iraqi man with his nine-year-old son.
Elsewhere in the forest, I met a woman called Sarah who is five months pregnant. The 26-year-old claimed to have spent 28 days in the forest with her husband Hassan, after flying to Belarus. Officials then took them to the country's border with Lithuania. They were caught after crossing the frontier, then taken across to the Polish border on the other side of the country. They had been pushed back nine times, she said, despite asking each time for asylum.
This sudden influx of migrants is stirring tensions in Poland, a divided country currently run by an ultra-conservative government at loggerheads with Brussels on gay rights, pollution and the supremacy of EU law. There is even talk that the country might follow Britain and leave the union.
'We put the security of our fatherland above everything,' said Poland's defence minister, Mariusz Blaszczak.
The defence ministry said that on Wednesday, Belarusian soldiers threatened to open fire on Polish forces who found a group of 250 migrants and refugees at the border. Nato says it is concerned about the 'escalating' situation.
Poland is one of ten countries that asked Brussels to pay for 'barriers' to block migrants – a request denied by EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, who says Brussels should not fund 'barbed wire and walls'. In defiance, Poland is spending £300 million on a wall along the 260-mile border with Belarus. Critics say it will be a costly failure, taking years to construct in forests and swamps. Lithuania has also started building an 11ft-high steel fence topped with razor wire on its frontier.
The Polish government has declared a state of emergency, sent 10,000 troops to assist frontier guards and banned outsiders from coming within 3km (1.9 miles) of the border.