Belarus Border Crisis: A Moment of Truth for EU’S Humanitarian Commitments

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Nov. 17, 2021)— Save the Children is calling on the EU to live up to its principles and end the suffering on the Poland-Belarus border, as the International Organization for Migration and the UN Refugee Agency were recently granted access to migrants on the Belarus side of the border. 

The use of water cannons, stun grenades, and tear gas by Polish border guards to disperse migrants yesterday is the latest in a chain of brutal events at the border, where thousands of people, including children, have been trapped since August. Security forces are preventing people from crossing and seeking asylum, which is a fundamental human right. 

In recent weeks, the situation has become increasingly desperate. The unfolding humanitarian crisis is deteriorating, with at least 11 people reportedly dying on both sides of the border since the onset of the crisis, including two children, whose deaths Save the Children has strongly condemned. As winter approaches, freezing conditions will risk more illness and fatalities, Save the Children said. 

While the EU has increased sanctions on Belarus, there has been little to no discussion on addressing the humanitarian situation or allowing people to come into the EU, Save the Children said. 

Instead, Poland has begun constructing a permanent concrete wall to prevent illegal crossings from the Belarus side, and the EU has said that it is willing to consider funding it. 

Janti Soeripto, President and CEO of Save the Children US said

“The EU and Poland have the opportunity to save the lives of people, including children, stranded at its borders. It is shameful that it is even a matter of debate whether to do so, never mind that the focus is on pushing desperate people back by building walls and using water cannons.”

“Belarus’s cynical exploitation and mistreatment of migrants and asylum seekers is despicable. But there is a clear way for Poland and the EU to reclaim the moral high ground: let in people at the border and let humanitarian organizations assist them. Belarus is not a safe country for these people, as events over the past few days have clearly demonstrated.”

“The EU has a well-deserved global reputation as a humanitarian donor, but the current crisis poses a serious question: is the EU solely a checkbook humanitarian, or truly committed to helping people in need regardless of the circumstances?”

“To help the hungry, cold and desperate children trapped at the EU border; first those children need to be offered access to European territory. Second, we invite Poland to give organizations like ours unhindered humanitarian access to provide children and families with food, shelter, and protection.”

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