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Humanitarian tragedy at borders between Belarus, Poland, Lithuania alarms Red Cross societies

November 18, 2021 at 9:50 pm

Iraqi migrant mother is seen with her children and she wants to receive help for her child with illness as she and other Iraqi migrants continue to wait at the Polish-Belarusian border during cold weather on November 13, 2021 in Belarus [Stringer – Anadolu Agency]

The two global Red Cross societies, on Thursday, expressed alarm at the “humanitarian tragedy” unfolding at the borders between Belarus, Poland and Lithuania, as thousands of migrants hoping to cross into the EU freeze in camps, Anadolu News Agency reports.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said at least 10 people are known to have died, including a 14-year-old boy, due to hypothermia.

“The situation is set to worsen with the most serious winter weather yet to arrive,” the IFRC—the world’s biggest humanitarian organization—and the ICRC— which protects victims of conflicts in countries as well as across borders—said in a joint statement.

READ: Poland faces months of migration pressure from Belarus, Minister says

The IFRC said volunteers are assisting thousands of vulnerable people with food, water, blankets and vital medical assistance.

The ICRC said it provides support and additional technical expertise to Red Cross partners, notably to keep migrants in contact with their relatives and other protection-related issues.

“There are extremely vulnerable people at the border, including people with disabilities, pregnant women, and hundreds of children—many of them without a parent or family member,” said Birgitte Ebbesen, the IFRC Regional Director for Europe.

“They have been sleeping rough in freezing conditions for many days now. These are mothers, sisters, sons and daughters, people whose lives matter and they should be protected and treated with compassion and dignity.”

Martin Schuepp, the ICRC Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, said that, to protect people’s lives, health, and dignity, and prevent further tragedy, all International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement partners and other humanitarian organizations “need immediate, unrestricted access to all migrants, including at borders.”

He said the ICRC provides support and additional technical expertise to its Red Cross partners on reuniting people with separated family members and other protection-related issues.

 Access to humanitarian aid

All migrants, irrespective of their legal status, should have adequate access to humanitarian assistance and medical assistance and protection, said the statement by the two Geneva-based groups.

“Whether this is international protection, or a voluntary return to their home countries, migrants’ rights should be respected at all times, and authorities should avoid separating family members and putting at risk their lives and physical integrity,” said the Red Cross groups.

According to the EU, Belarus reaches out to potential travelers through seemingly official channels, including diplomatic missions and travel agencies, and invites them to Belarus by offering visas. They are then allegedly guided to the EU border.

READ: There are no friends for Kurdish migrants on the Polish border

NATO and the EU consider Belarus’ approach towards migrants a hybrid attack meant to destabilise and undermine security in European countries through non-military means.

Since August, the EU countries bordering Belarus—Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland—have reported a dramatically growing number of irregular crossings.

Over 8,000 people have tried to enter the bloc via the Belarus-EU border this year, up sharply from just 150 last year.

Over the last week, at least 2,000 people, including women and children, have been stuck in the Belarusian-Polish border area in dire conditions.​​​​​​​