Brussels, Belgium, 22nd November 2021 – As days continue to pass and thirteen people, including a one year old child, have lost their lives at the border between Poland and Belarus, the IRC calls for unfettered humanitarian access and a firm defence of the right to asylum at border areas. 

Unomano, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As the stalemate between the EU and Belarus continues, the IRC urges all countries involved to immediately cease using human beings as political leverage. At the borders, people have been living in freezing conditions without food, water or shelter, and denied access to humanitarian aid and legal services. Already, at least thirteen people have died as a result, and there are growing reports of people suffering from hypothermia. 

In purposefully facilitating the movement of people to its border, preventing them from returning, and denying them access to humanitarian aid, Belarus has been putting lives at risk. Poland’s response – meeting people with violence, and illegally denying them the right to seek asylum violates European and international law, and undermines the EU’s own values. Seeking asylum is not a crime; it is a human right.

Harlem Désir, Senior Vice President for IRC in Europe, said,

“The misdeeds of Belarus, which have lured vulnerable people into a political game, cannot be answered with inhumanity at the risk of people’s life.

“At this critical moment, the IRC is calling for the continued swift de-escalation of the situation, and for all states to guarantee the humane treatment of migrants and refugees. The EU should continue to do all it can to dissuade Belarus from these actions which put people’s lives and dignity at risk. European countries must uphold people’s right to asylum and ensure that all claims are processed quickly and fairly. Meanwhile, continued EU support focused on ensuring humanitarian access and the dignified reception of people arriving in Poland will remain critical. 

“Going forward, it is essential that EU leaders set up strong and independent border monitoring mechanisms to address human rights violations at Europe’s external borders, hold perpetrators accountable, and uphold the rule of law. Violence or illegal pushbacks cannot be allowed to continue.”

The IRC has been responding to humanitarian crises in Europe since 2015, where we launched an emergency response to the peak in migration in Greece and relaunched operations in Serbia. Our teams provided water, health and sanitation, and psychosocial support to refugees and migrants. Since then, the IRC has also provided support to refugees and migrants in Italy in 2017 and Bosnia in 2020.