Belarus and neighboring countries – Europe Region: Emergency Appeal for Population Movements No. MGR65001, Operation Update No. 2 – Belarus

To date, this Emergency call, which is asking for CHF 9,500,000, is funded at 10.4%. Additional financial contributions are needed to enable National Societies in the region, with the support of the IFRC, to continue preparedness efforts and provide humanitarian assistance and protection to those affected.


Description of the situation

The migration situation related to Belarus and neighboring countries started in May 2021 with an increasing number of migrants entering Lithuania illegally from Belarus. Later in August 2021, there was an increase in migrants to Latvia and Poland. Since then, the situation has affected around 20,000 people spread across several countries, mainly Belarus, Poland and Lithuania. Following regular daily attempts by people to cross EU borders in the fall and an escalation at the border that led to clashes in early November, the situation deteriorated in December 2021 and early January 2022. 14 migrants are reported to have died on the ground near the border in recent months.

Some migrants remain on the ground near the border, but the majority on the Belarusian side of the border have been moved and are housed in a logistics center at the Bruzgi border crossing. The number of people accommodated in the logistics center has gradually decreased to 450, as stated by the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Belarus, but other actors involved in the operation put the figure up to 800. exact number of migrants through Belarus (excluding the logistics hub) is unknown but estimated at a few hundred (as estimated by the Belarusian Red Cross, UNHCR and IOM). In addition, migrants are accommodated in centers in Lithuania and Poland. In Lithuania, 3,200 people are detained in five centres, pending asylum procedures, with the cumulative number of arrivals equaling 4,332. Since August 2021, 8,200 people have been turned back from the Lithuanian borders. In Poland, 1,675 migrants are in detention centers (including 972 people in family detention centers and the rest in centers for men) run by border guards. Some migrants who arrived from Belarus in the last year are also placed in open centers run by the Office for Foreigners.

While the intensity of the situation has subsided, there are humanitarian needs, human rights violations and operational constraints that continue to cause concern. Temporary derogations from EU rules on asylum and return threaten to undermine fair asylum procedures, increase (de facto) detention, extend registration periods, facilitate the process of return and encourage refoulement. In addition, humanitarian actors continue to face limitations in accessing migrants in border areas. As a result, migrants, including those with special needs, do not receive the essential assistance or protection to which they are entitled.

The three National Red Cross Societies of Lithuania, Poland and Belarus have played a key role as local actors in responding to humanitarian needs in this context. The Latvian Red Cross is also involved in the response to the migration situation at the border between Latvia and Belarus. There have been regular attempts by migrants to cross the border into Latvia, although in lower numbers than on other border sections. Local branches of the Latvian Red Cross provide food, hygiene products, blankets and clothes, and work closely with border guards and NGOs.

The Ukrainian Red Cross is strengthening its preparedness for migration scenarios. Based on their ongoing discussions with the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, he requested their specific support in early January 2022 in anticipation of the increase in the number of migrants arriving in Ukraine from Belarus. A small contribution from the emergency budgets of the emergency appeal is foreseen. The aim would be to meet the basic needs of vulnerable people in detention and improve conditions of detention, including through COVID-19 PPE, hygiene items and other in-kind assistance.

In Belarus, the situation has calmed down, as no significant influx of migrants has been observed. The number of migrants staying in Belarus has also been significantly reduced due to repatriation flights through which 3,817 Iraqi migrants were repatriated from Belarus and 112 from Lithuania and thanks to IOM’s voluntary repatriation and assisted reintegration program which helped 381 migrants to return from Belarus. in their home country last year. The number of migrants staying in Belarus has also been significantly reduced due to repatriation flights through which 3,817 Iraqi migrants were repatriated from Belarus and due to IOM’s voluntary repatriation and assisted reintegration program which assisted 381 migrants. to return to their country of origin last year. . Attempts to cross the border into the EU, at the borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, are reported, but they are limited in number and scale, due to harsh winter conditions and increased protection measures for borders. It is widely believed that despite continued repatriation efforts, several hundred people will remain, due to their lack of ability or willingness to repatriate for various reasons.
As the conditions at the logistics center are not suitable for an extended stay, advocacy efforts for more appropriate solutions are underway.

In Lithuania, in recent months, the number of illegal border crossings has decreased significantly. Most people trying to cross the Lithuanian border are pushed back to Belarus. On January 15, 2022, Lithuania ended the state of emergency at the border, however, the Lithuanian army continues to help border guards to guard the border. According to official statistics from the Migration Department of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Lithuania, 97 people who entered Lithuania irregularly from Belarus had their asylum applications approved, while 3,199 asylum applications were rejected. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, 537 migrants returned to their country of origin from Lithuania, of which 482 did so voluntarily. Currently, 3,200 foreigners live in five reception centres. The Lithuanian government (with funding from the European Commission) is providing €1,000 as an incentive to irregular migrants who would voluntarily leave the country by January 20, 2022. Although basic food or allowances for l groceries are provided at reception centres, conditions are not suitable for long-term stays. Because some centers look like closed buildings (like a former correctional center) or shipping containers, migrants may resent the situation and experience further trauma in an environment conducive to more frustration with their situation.

In Poland, reports from Polish border guards showed a significant decrease in daily attempts to cross the Polish border in the last month (mid-December 2021 to mid-January 2021) on the side of Belarus – from 500 to 29 daily attempts or people, due to harsh weather conditions (low temperature, strong wind, high humidity). However, the number of migrants and border crossing attempts can be expected to increase once weather conditions improve. Some migrants are sent back to Belarus, while some asylum seekers in Poland, including families or sick people, are transferred to detention centres. Currently, there are 1,675 people in detention centers. Currently, the Polish Red Cross (PRC) has access to 5 family detention centers and 7 Polish border guard posts. The CRP provides migrants with basic food and negotiates access to other detention centres.

Mary I. Bruner