Action needed now to prevent further loss of life on the Belarus border

There are an estimated 2,000 people living in makeshift camps at the Poland-Belarus border.

There are an estimated 2,000 people living in makeshift camps at the Poland-Belarus border.

Photo: Belarus Red Cross

Budapest, 15 November 2021 – The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is calling for an urgent de-escalation of the situation at the Belarus-Poland border and for access for humanitarian organisations, to prevent more deaths.

At least 10 migrants are thought to have died as conditions reach below freezing along the 1000km border between Belarus and neighbouring countries Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

“We are concerned about the increasingly serious situation on the Poland-Belarus border, after large groups of migrants arrived there on November 8. We call for access for the Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations so that all people in need, at the border and other locations, can receive medical treatment, humanitarian assistance and protection services,” said Andreas von Weissenberg, IFRC Europe’s head of Disasters, Climate and Crises.

“While Belarus Red Cross has thankfully been given some access to provide vital life-saving aid to people enduring hunger and freezing conditions, we need that access to be regular and also get access on the other side of the border. People need to be treated humanely,” von Weissenberg said.

An estimated 2,000 people are living in makeshift camps near the border. Belarus Red Cross has been coordinating aid from partners since November 9, distributing food, water, blankets and warm clothes. 50 staff and volunteers are involved in a continuous response to the situation with migrants, 20 of them are involved sorting and distributing packages, as well as helping authorities set up heating tents for women and children.

Belarus Red Cross has also provided food, clothing and hygiene kits for three children who were hospitalised in Grodno and is assisting migrants who come to its office in Minsk.   

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

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

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

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

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

In total the financial support provided by IFRC to the three Red Cross Societies will be more than 1 million Swiss francs.
Lithuanian Red Cross teams have been supporting migrants close to the border with water, hygiene kits, footwear and clothing, as well as toys for children. In five large reception centres volunteers provide food and other humanitarian aid, offer psychological support and legal assistance and help people reconnect with their 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, irrespective of their legal status. People are crossing the border with just the clothes on their backs. They need food, medicine, hygiene items, clothing, and protective equipment against COVID-19. We must be allowed to deliver 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