In May 2021, migrants arriving in Belarus started crossing the border into Lithuania. By August, more than 4,000 people had crossed and were placed first in temporary camps and later in a few facilities, pending processing of asylum applications. As Lithuania reinforced its border and introduced a state of emergency for the border zone, the routes of the migrants largely shifted towards the Polish border, with an unknown number crossing, being apprehended by the border guards and placed in centres on the border and elsewhere. Poland also reinforced its border, mobilized soldiers to assist the border guards and, in early September, declared a state of emergency.
Despite reinforcements on the border, attempts by people to irregularly cross into the European Union have continued in the past couple of months, with the authorities in Lithuania and Poland reporting hundreds of attempts every day. Many people spend days and weeks in the terrain by the border. To date, ten people are reported to have died, exhausted and exposed to low temperatures.
In early November, the situation escalated when a several thousand migrants approached the borders with Poland, but also Lithuania, from the Belarusian side. This led to a tense stand-off and some clashes between border guards and migrants. Most people who were at the border have now been moved to a nearby hall.
The majority of people affected in the context are from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Sudan and other Middle East, African and Asian countries. Tens of nationalities were reported among those crossing into Lithuania in July and August. Across the context there are significant numbers of women and children – around 40% of those entering Lithuanian, for example – as well as unaccompanied minors and persons with disabilities.
The three National Red Cross Societies of Lithuania, Poland and Belarus have played a critical role as local actors in responding to humanitarian needs throughout this context. Belarus Red Cross is the only organization with continuous access to the border zone in Belarus and has been distributing relief goods there since the stand-off started. Both Lithuanian Red Cross and Polish Red Cross have made assistance available for people in border areas they cannot access directly. The Polish Red Cross recently agreed with the authorities on restricted yet regular access to some centres in the border zone and both National Societies continue to advocate for full and regular access to all migrants, wherever they may be. Both the Lithuanian and the Polish Red Cross are also supporting people in centres outside of the closed border zones as well as people on the move. Given the unique role of these National Societies, it is vital to ensure operational resources, but also to continue to build their capacity and strengthened readiness to act in disaster and crises situations.
The migration context related to Belarus and neighbouring countries has been characterised by a lack of overview in terms of data. Considering official figures given by various authorities, it can be estimated to at least 20,000 people are caught up in the situation. This includes the Belarusian authorities’ recent figure of 7,000 migrants in Belarus as well as 3,500 migrants in centres in Lithuania and an unknown number in centres in Poland. In addition to these figures, German authorities report over 6,000 people arriving from Poland during six weeks from the beginning of October to mid-November. This shows that an actual number of people who are still on the move is unknown with the situation likely to continue, despite reinforced borders.
This Emergency Appeal will prioritize support to the three National Red Cross Societies who are currently operational in the context. The Emergency Appeal may however also extend to other countries that could be impacted by the situation. The funding requirement is based on ongoing activities and also includes contingency to allow for a quick scale-up and targeting in any of the countries, should the situation so require. The Emergency Appeal also aims to significantly improve on the National Societies’ capacities to respond in rapidly developing context, including future disasters and crises situations