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60% of migrants who spoke to WHO/Europe on the Belarus-Lithuania border need some form of medical attention

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The Regional Director calls for the health of migrants along the Belarussian border to be protected and depoliticized

Copenhagen, 12 November 2021

WHO/Europe has sent a team of experts to Lithuania for a rapid assessment to support the country in providing health care to migrants arriving from Belarus. Preliminary results from an ongoing survey of migrants in the reception facilities and border posts reveal that many migrants need treatment, medication, psychosocial support, as well as information in their native languages. Over a third of respondents required medical treatment during their journey while 3 in 5 of those who spoke to WHO/Europe require treatment and medicines for an ongoing health condition.

“The situation requires both immediate and sustained solutions to address the health needs of migrants,” explains Jozef Bartovic, a technical officer who recently arrived on the border. “The host community is also in need of support as the situation has evolved rapidly and as a result, their capacity to provide services has been severely affected.”

WHO/Europe urges all states to protect the right to health of refugees and migrants along the Belarussian border, many of whom need medical assistance. Thousands of undocumented migrants from the Middle East and African countries have been arriving in Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland via Belarus in recent months. The past few days has seen the situation escalate into a political crisis on the European Union’s eastern border.

“I am very concerned about the thousands of vulnerable people who are stranded in no-man’s land on Belarus’s borders with Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, at the mercy of the weather as winter fast approaches,” says WHO/Europe Regional Director, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge.

“These refugees and migrants must be treated with the dignity and respect they are entitled to under international law. This includes the right to health,” adds Dr Kluge. “Women and children are sleeping outdoors in the bitter cold. Several people have already died. And COVID-19 cases are rising sharply across the region. It is our duty to uphold the health rights of refugees and migrants, guarantee safety, and provide adequate shelter, hygiene facilities, basic food and medicine, and access to COVID-19 testing facilities. The desperate scenes call for urgent, constructive dialogue and action, and WHO is committed to upholding the right to health for all, beyond politics.”

The rapid assessment mission is led by WHO/Europe with support from the Lithuanian Red Cross, International Organization for Migration (IOM) Lithuania and the IOM Regional Office for Europe in Brussels. It aims to support local and national authorities with capacity-building and recommendations based on standardized health care approaches and evidence-based public health interventions.

For further information, contact:

Bhanu Bhatnagar
Press and Media Relations Officer
Email: bbhatnagar@who.int

WHO/Europe Press Office
Email: eupress@who.int