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Belarus and Poland: Stop sacrificing migrant lives to political dispute ̶ UN Special Rapporteurs

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GENEVA (6 October 2021) – Belarus and Poland must work together to keep more migrants from dying on their border as victims of a political dispute, UN Special Rapporteurs* said today.

“It is absolutely tragic that six people have already died; not one more person must be allowed to die as a result of this political dispute,” they said. “Belarus reportedly has encouraged refugees and other migrants from as far away as Iraq and Afghanistan to cross its borders into the European Union, while Poland and other EU countries have declared ‘states of emergency’ in an attempt to deny asylum-seekers access to protection in their countries, but now they must work together to save the lives of all those stranded at their common border.”

They called on the two countries to offer life-saving medical assistance, food, clean water and – as temperatures fall close to zero -- shelter adequate for the conditions.

They spoke after the deaths of six migrants, including a 16-year-old boy, in the border zone in September, as record numbers of migrants, including asylum-seekers, poured across Belarus’s EU frontier into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

“Above all, the human rights of all these individuals must be respected,” the Special Rapporteurs said. “No matter how they have travelled and arrived at international borders, all migrants, regardless of status, have the right to seek and enjoy protection,” the Special Rapporteurs said. “The rights of migrants to a prompt, individual examination of their circumstances must also be respected. We remind countries that international law prohibits arbitrary or collective expulsions and refoulement.”

Several weeks before the deaths, the Special Rapporteurs expressed concern to Belarus and Poland about the dire conditions of people, including children, stranded at the border without adequate shelter and food, clean water, sanitation facilities or medical care. They were not being allowed to seek asylum and other protection under international human rights law. They continue to discuss the issue with the two countries.

“We call on both Belarus and Poland to conduct a thorough investigation into the deaths at the border, including the cause of death of each victim, and to make the results public,” the Special Rapporteurs said.

The Special Rapporteurs also reminded Poland, Latvia and Lithuania – which all have declared a state of emergency along their borders with Belarus – that “the right to life and freedom from torture, refoulement and collective expulsions are non-derogable rights. This means they can never be suspended, not even in a state of emergency.”

ENDS

***The Special Rapporteurs: Mr. Felipe González Morales, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Mr. Nils Melzer Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health.*

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Jeremy Laurence (+ 41 79 444 7578 / jeremy.laurence@un.org)