Not long ago, 20 migrants were killed, when they crossed the border from Turkey to Greece. They were found stripped of their clothes and shoes. At the Belarusian and Polish borders, people are forced to move until they found themselves stuck in a forested border area where they face harsh weather conditions.
At the beginning of 2022, Médecins Sans Frontiers and other humanitarian organisations made a difficult decision to withdraw from the Polish border after being prevented from entering the restricted zone by the authorities for months. At least 21 people died while attempting to cross the border from Belarus into Poland in 2021. Today, people continue to face the harsh conditions including cold, lack of food, water, shelter, warm clothes or access to health care.
With European policies which restrict access for organisations to provide support to migrants, more people are at risk of dying in these harsh conditions.
The inhabitants of restricted areas and adjacent areas are the only persons able to reach those most in need of assistance, and providing such assistance is illegal. Thus, the assistance of women, children and men caught in the cold has been secretly carried out and considered a dangerous task. Witnesses said that their families had been verbally assaulted for aiding refugees.
The Polish community is divided between supporters of soldiers defending the border and people who are difficult to ignore. In this context, the military wants no one to talk about what’s happening and everyone to keep quiet and pretend that nothing is happening.
Human rights defenders, including media professionals and interpreters, faced threats and intimidation on the border of Belarus.
Chabia Manto, a spokeswoman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, told journalists in Geneva that human rights and the safety of refugees and migrants were very important. She warned that the use of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants for political ends is unacceptable and must stop, considering it total shame.
The United Nations has also earlier accused the Polish and Belarusian authorities of preventing a team from reaching the border area between the two countries to investigate the migrant crisis, as the spokeswoman for the OSCE office stated, calling on the authorities of the two countries to allow the team to arrive, to stop practices that endanger refugees and other migrants and to urgently address this appalling situation.
We, for our part, stress the importance for the Government to stop repelling refugees. Major organisations must be able to enter the area despite the law in force. It is disgraceful that organisations accept such restrictions. Leaving people to die in the woods is also contrary to humanitarian law. We call for this appalling situation to be urgently addressed in line with States’ obligations under international human rights law.