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UN Agencies Request Access To Asylum Seekers Stranded At EU Border With Belarus

Polish border officers stand guard next to a group of migrants stranded at the frontier between Belarus and Poland earlier this month.
Polish border officers stand guard next to a group of migrants stranded at the frontier between Belarus and Poland earlier this month.

Two United Nations agencies have requested immediate access to asylum seekers stranded at Belarus's border with European Union members Poland and Lithuania, after four migrants were found dead in the area.

The International Organization for Migration and the UN Refugee Agency called on the governments involved to be guided primarily by human rights and international law as they try to stop people from illegally entering the EU.

"IOM and UNHCR call for immediate access to those affected, in order to provide lifesaving medical help, food, water and shelter, especially in light of the approaching winter," the two agencies said in a statement on September 21.

Poland and Lithuania received an unusually large number of migrants and refugees from Belarus in recent months. They accuse Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s government of trying to destabilize the 27-nation EU.

The border pressure began after Western countries slapped sanctions on Lukashenka’s government over the country's disputed August 2020 presidential election and a crackdown on the opposition.

The UN agencies also called for an investigation into the four deaths.

The governments of Poland and Lithuania declared states of emergency that deny entry to some border regions to anyone except border guards and security services. They are also building razor wire fences along their border with Belarus.

Poland’s authorities said three people who were found dead on September 19 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 have 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 access any form of assistance, asylum or basic services. Many were left in dire situations, exposed to the elements, suffering from hypothermia. Some were rescued from swamps."

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

With reporting by AP
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