Migrants and locals are victims as human rights challenged in Belarus-Poland border area, say OSCE parliamentary leaders

COPENHAGEN, 18 October 2021 – The governments of Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland must work together to ensure that persons trapped in the border area between their countries have access to food, water, adequate health care and temporary shelter, the leadership of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Migration and the Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions said today.

Kristian Vigenin (Bulgaria), who chairs the migration committee, along with Sereine Mauborgne (France), Michael Georg Link (Germany) and Johan Büser (Sweden) who lead the human rights committee, stressed the need to uphold the fundamental human rights of migrants and locals in the border areas of Belarus and neighbouring countries. They reiterated the 25 August 2021 ruling of the European Court of Human Rights which called upon Polish and Latvian authorities to “provide all the applicants with food, water, clothing, adequate medical care and, if possible, temporary shelter.” They also called upon Poland to allow unimpeded access of medical and humanitarian aid, as well as legal assistance and urged authorities to respect the right to seek asylum and the right to legal recourse.

“Regardless of why and how these persons have arrived in this border area, we have a duty to protect them,” said Mauborgne, Chair of the human rights committee. “We simply cannot allow children, women and men to suffer in dire conditions in the woods and being used as pawns in a political game. This clearly constitutes inhuman and degrading treatment.”

“We appeal to Polish authorities to lift the state of emergency in order to allow for the provision of humanitarian and legal assistance to these persons,” said Michael Link, Vice-Chair of the human rights committee. “Allowing access of humanitarian organizations and the media would also serve the general public interest of transparency. The state of emergency which has been extended until the end of November is not only disproportionate to the situation, it also punishes local communities which rely upon cross-border trade and tourism.”

In reference to steps by Poland to enshrine ‘pushbacks’ in national law, following the adoption of legislation on 14 October, Vigenin emphasized that all persons are entitled to request asylum, regardless of the method of entry, as well as to seek legal recourse, and that the proposed legislation was in clear contravention of Poland’s international legal commitments. The principle of non-refoulement, he underlined, applies at all times, irrespective of migration status or method of entry.

“Ensuring respect of the right to asylum and protecting the state’s borders are not mutually exclusive. In the face of challenges presented by irregular migration, it is important to develop a co-ordinated policy response with all countries along the migration path to prevent further irregular arrivals rather than penalize the migrants themselves. The tragic death of yet another migrant on 14 October is a reminder that lives are at stake,” said Vigenin.

He called upon the countries affected by the influx to make the best use of EU resources to ensure the effective protection of external EU borders. Vigenin also strongly condemned the actions of smugglers and other actors who have misled vulnerable persons and encouraged them to travel towards the European Union along illegal routes. He encouraged the authorities of Poland and neighbouring states to draw upon the expertise of the OSCE and other organizations in combating migrant smuggling and trafficking.

“Belarusian authorities have tried to ‘weaponize’ innocent migrants in a deeply cynical way,” said human rights Rapporteur Johan Büser. “However troubling this may be, it is incumbent upon bordering countries to care for these migrants and respect their rights and those of others in the affected areas.”

Poland, Latvia and Lithuania have all been experiencing a sharp increase in the number of irregular migrants from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen arriving from Belarus since early August. So far, at least seven persons are known to have died in the border areas of Belarus and neighbouring countries.

Poland imposed a state of emergency in the area along the border with Belarus on 2 September, prohibiting movements and access by humanitarian organizations, NGOs and media. Latvia and Lithuania also adopted states of emergency in response to the sharp increase in irregular arrivals over the summer. On 4 October, Belarus passed legislation allowing it to refuse to take back asylum seekers from the EU.

On 14 October, Poland’s parliament passed legislation aiming to legalize pushbacks of migrants across its borders, enabling local border guards to send back migrants and allowing for asylum applications to be disregarded in the case of a foreigner immediately caught after illegally crossing the border. The legislation must be signed by Polish President Andrzej Duda to take force.

 

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