On 11 November, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Belarus were granted access to a makeshift camp on the Belarusian side of the border near the international crossing point “Bruzgi” where a group of approximately 2,000 asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants has been staying since 8 November. Among them are many children and women, including pregnant ones.
At the moment of the visit, UNHCR and IOM delivered some emergency aid, including hygienic items for children and women, as well as some food items. More assistance is on the way – such as blankets, warm clothes, gloves, hats and boots, for children – to be delivered by the organizations’ partner, the Belarusian Red Cross.
This is very much emergency assistance as the main priority right now is to prevent loss of life, and advocate with the authorities to move people to safe locations, where they can be provided with adequate assistance and counseling, and where humane solutions can be found according to individuals’ personal situation and needs. The makeshift camp at the border with no adequate shelter, food, water and medical care in freezing temperatures is not a safe and suitable place for people and could lead to further loss of life.
During the visit, IOM and UNHCR managed to speak to people and provide reliable information on viable options. Depending on circumstances and needs of people these include application for asylum in Belarus for those who are in need of international protection. Also, some asylum-seekers and refugees might have compelling reasons to move, including for family reunification purposes in the EU. Another option is the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) program implemented by IOM, which offers a dignified, safe and legal return home and depends only on a free choice of a person.
IOM and UNHCR stand ready to engage with states in ensuring human rights and safety of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants.