Steps are needed now to prevent further loss of life at Belarusian border

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Budapest, November 15, 2021 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) calls for an urgent de-escalation of the situation on the Belarusian-Poland border and for the access of humanitarian organizations, in order to avoid more deaths.

At least 10 migrants are believed to have died as conditions dip below freezing along the 1,000 km border between Belarus and neighboring countries Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

“We are concerned about the increasingly serious situation on the border between Poland and Belarus, following the arrival of large groups of migrants on 8 November. We call for access by the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations so that all those in need, at the border and elsewhere, can receive medical care, humanitarian assistance and protection services ”, said Andreas von Weissenberg, Head of Disasters, Climate and Crises at IFRC Europe.

“While the Belarusian Red Cross has fortunately gained some access to provide life-saving aid to those suffering from hunger and frost, we need this access to be regular and also across the border. People must be treated humanely ”, said von Weissenberg.

An estimated 2,000 people live in makeshift camps near the border. The Belarusian Red Cross has been coordinating aid from its partners since November 9, distributing food, water, blankets and warm clothes. 50 employees and volunteers are involved in a continuous response to the situation of migrants, 20 of them are responsible for sorting and distributing parcels, as well as helping the authorities to set up heated tents for women and children.

The Belarusian Red Cross has also provided food, clothing and hygiene kits to three children hospitalized in Grodno and is assisting migrants who come to its office in Minsk.

Andreas von Weissenberg said the Polish Red Cross has also been responding to this crisis for several weeks.

“They are working with the authorities to deliver blankets, sleeping bags and clothes. Local branches are supporting migrants in the provinces of Podlaskie and Lubelskie, near the border, with food, water and hygiene kits. They provide first aid and help people find their family members. But they need unhindered access to migrants at the border, in accordance with our humanitarian mandate and our core principles.

“Access to humanitarian aid and protection in the territory must go hand in hand. All migrants arriving at EU borders should be able to effectively apply for international protection and receive an individualized assessment of their application, in accordance with the UN Refugee Convention and applicable EU law ”, von Weissenberg explained.

The IFRC is providing the Belarusian Red Cross with emergency funding. It has already allocated 429,426 Swiss francs from its Emergency Disaster Relief Fund (DREF) to help the Polish Red Cross support up to 4,300 migrants by providing them with food, clothing, hygiene items, first aid and family reunification services.

The IFRC has also allocated 338,885 Swiss francs from its Emergency Disaster Relief Fund to help the Lithuanian Red Cross support up to 4,000 migrants with medicines, clothing, hygiene kits, personal protective equipment against COVID-19, family reunification and psychosocial support services.

In total, the financial support provided by the IFRC to the three Red Cross Societies will amount to more than one million Swiss francs.
Lithuanian Red Cross teams are supporting migrants near the border with water, hygiene kits, shoes and clothes, as well as children’s toys. In five large reception centers, volunteers provide food and other humanitarian aid, offer psychological support and legal assistance, and help people reconnect with loved ones by providing mobile phones and SIM cards.

But more needs to be done.

“Humanitarian organizations must be granted unconditional and safe access to all people in need, regardless of their legal status. People cross the border with just the clothes on their backs. They need food, medicine, hygiene items, clothing and protective gear against COVID-19. We must be allowed to provide critical assistance and we want to see a peaceful, humane and rights-based solution to the situation ”, von Weissenberg concluded.

Photos of the Red Cross response can be found here

For more information please contact:

In Budapest: Georgia Trismpioti, +30 697 180 9031, georgia.trismpioti@ifrc.org

In Budapest: Corinne Ambler, +36 704 306 506, corinne.ambler@ifrc.org

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