EU-Belarus border: First steps in providing aid to migrants but crisis still needs to de-escalate

EU-Belarus border: First steps in providing aid to migrants but crisis still needs to de-escalate
© Belarus Red Cross, 2021

The humanitarian situation of stranded migrants in Belarus and in the border region with neighbouring EU member states continues to raise serious concerns, according to EU sources.

A rapid assessment mission more than a week ago led by WHO/Europe showed that many migrants need treatment, medication, psychosocial support, as well as information in their native languages. That mission focused only on Lithuania. The European Commission is in touch with international aid organisations and stand ready to assist but cannot itself provide any assistance.

At a technical briefing yesterday (19 November), senior EU officials reported about the on-going situation but did not take any political questions. While the EU places the full responsibility for the crisis on the Belarusian regime, by instrumentalising migrants for political purposes, it is very much concerned about the humanitarian consequences for the victims.

In order to resolve the situation, the EU focuses on three measures: ) providing urgent humanitarian aid to the migrants, 2) moving them away from the forested border region, where they are exposed to the forces of weather, to liveable conditions under roof inside Belarus, and 3) repatriating them to  their countries of origin, from where they were lured to travel to Belarus and pushed to enter the EU.

For the time being, about 2,000 migrants have reportedly been moved from the border region to shelters or make-shift camps inside Belarus. The first flight repatriating 400 migrants has also left Minsk to Iraq.

These are the first minor signs that the situation is improving but it is still too early to conclude that it has de-escalated, according to the EU officials. Although the Commission is monitoring the situation closely, it has no exact figures about how many migrants are still stranded along the border. The total figure of migrants who travelled to Belarus can be up to 10,000.

The Commission has still no access to the Polish side of the border and is requesting access from all sides to the border region.

Asked about rumours about talks between German chancellor Merkel and Belarusian leader Lukashenko on establishing a “humanitarian corridor” into the EU, the EU source replied that the Commission has no information about any agreement on such a corridor.

The European Commission announced earlier this week that it has allocated €700,000 in humanitarian assistance for vulnerable people stranded at the border.

Of this amount, €200,000 was allocated to the International Federation of Red Cross (IRC), the Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and their national partner, the Belarus Red Cross, for immediate delivery of much needed relief assistance, including food, hygiene kits, blankets, and first aid kits.

However, the Commission is not informed about the outcome of the discussions between Minsk and the humanitarian aid organisations.

A senior official responsible for the Commission’s humanitarian aid operations explained at the briefing that such assistance can only be provided to partner organisations and not to member state governments. However, the Commission could deploy the European Civil Protection Mechanism, at the request of member states. Until now, only Lithuania has asked for EU assistance.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times

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