Dozens of people 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 freezing temperatures for up to several weeks, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.
In recent weeks, more than a dozen migrants have been hospitalized after being pushed back and stranded in harsh conditions in the forest. Many had frost bite and hypothermia and several had to have limbs amputated. MSF calls on the Lithuanian and Latvian authorities to stop all border pushbacks, which only serve to traumatize migrants, cause serious injuries, and deny 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.”
Border guards in Lithuania and Latvia force people attempting to enter the countries back through the border fence, leaving them without shelter or sufficient food and water. Such pushbacks are becoming de facto practice. Last winter, at least 27 people died at these borders, although the real number might be higher.
“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.
These ongoing pushbacks deny migrants their basic rights including applying for asylum or accessing medical attention. MSF is horrified that pushbacks continue, especially as the freezing temperatures in Lithuania and Latvia result in more serious injuries.
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 these hostile policies, which are deliberately creating unsafe conditions for people who seek safety and compounds their suffering.