UN wants access to asylum seekers stuck at Belarus border

Agencies call for governments involved to be guided by human rights and international law

Polish soldiers build a fence on the border with Belarus near the village of Nomiki on August 26. Reuters
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Two UN agencies on Tuesday requested access to asylum seekers stranded at Belarus's border with Poland and Lithuania, after four migrants were found dead in the area.

The International Organisation for Migration and the UN High Commission for Refugees called on the governments involved to be guided by human rights and international law as they try to stop people from illegally entering the EU from Belarus.

The UN agencies called for an investigation into the four deaths and “immediate access” to other refugees and migrants “to provide lifesaving medical help, food, water and shelter, especially in light of the approaching winter".

The governments of Poland and Lithuania introduced states of emergency that deny entry through certain border areas to anyone except border guards and security services.

They also are building razor-wire fences along their borders with Belarus.

Poland’s authorities said three people found dead on Sunday close to the Belarusian border died from hypothermia and exhaustion.

Polish border guards also saw the body of a woman close to the border on the Belarusian side.

The UN agencies, both based in Geneva, said the nationalities of the people who died had not been confirmed, but two of the victims who died of hypothermia were believed to be from Iraq.

The agencies said they were “following with growing concern, reports of pushbacks of people at these borders".

Groups of people have become stranded for weeks, unable to gain access to assistance, asylum or basic services.

Many were left in dire situations, exposed to the elements and suffering from hypothermia. Some were rescued from swamps.

Refusing to allow asylum seekers to seek protection is considered a breach of international law.

EU members Poland and Lithuania received an unusual number of migrants and refugees from Belarus in recent months.

They claim the government of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is trying to destabilise the 27-nation EU.

The border pressure began after western countries imposed sanctions on Mr Lukashenko’s government over its disputed August 2020 presidential election and a crackdown on the opposition.

Updated: September 21, 2021, 9:52 PM