Dozens of people1 attempting to seek refuge in the European Union continue to be pushed back at the Lithuanian and Latvian borders with Belarus - and left to languish in the forest for up to several weeks, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.MSF calls on the Lithuanian and Latvian authorities stop all border pushbacks, which only serve to traumatize migrants and cause serious injuries, denying people the right to seek safety.
“Fourteen people, including children, had to be admitted to the hospital in recent weeks,” said Georgina Brown, MSF project coordinator in Lithuania and Latvia. “Several people needed limb amputations, and for some patients it is still unclear if their limbs can be saved. This is preventable and totally unacceptable. People will die if nothing changes.”
“A young man told me he spent a week in the forest,” said Brown. “When the border guards caught him, his feet hurt so much he was crying. He showed them the bad condition of his feet, but they still pushed him back. Now he had to undergo an amputation.”
In the last year, thousands of people from countries including Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Cameroon, and Afghanistan have attempted to cross the border from Belarus into Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Governments of all three countries restricted access to their borders and declared a state of emergency. Border guards in Lithuania and Latvia force people back through the fence, leaving them without shelter, lacking sufficient food and water, and remaining stranded in the forest, with such pushbacks becoming a de facto practice. Last winter, at least 27 people died at these borders, although the real number might be higher.
These ongoing pushbacks deny migrants their basic rights like asking for asylum or getting medical attention.MSF is horrified that pushbacks continue, as the freezing temperatures in Lithuania and Latvia result in more serious conditions, including frost bite and hypothermia.
Despite the harsh winter conditions, pushbacks continue daily, with no respect for human dignity and rights. MSF calls on the Lithuanian and Latvian authorities to put an end to those hostile policies, which are deliberately creating unsafe conditions for people who seek safety and further increasing their suffering.
1 These are not MSF statistics, but open-source data published by the respective border guard services.