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Belarus and neighbouring countries - Europe Region: Population Movement Emergency appeal No. MGR65001, Operation update # 2

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To date, this Emergency Appeal, which seeks CHF 9,500,000, is 10,4 per cent funded. Further funding contributions are needed to enable the National Societies in the region, with the support of the IFRC, to continue with the preparedness efforts and with the provision of humanitarian assistance and protection to the affected people.

A. SITUATION ANALYSIS

Description of the situation

The migration situation related to Belarus and neighbouring countries started in May 2021 with an increasing number of migrants irregularly entering Lithuania from Belarus. Later in August 2021, there was an increase of migrants in Latvia and Poland. Since then, the situation has impacted an estimated 20,000 people spread across several countries, mainly Belarus, Poland and Lithuania. Following regular and daily attempts by people to cross the borders into the EU during the autumn and an escalation on the border which led to clashes in early November, the situation has de-escalated in December 2021 and early January 2022. 14 migrants are reported to have died in the terrain by the border over the past months.

Some migrants remain in the terrain by the border, but the majority on the Belarus side of the border have been moved to and are being housed in a logistic centre at Bruzgi border crossing. The number of people accommodated in the logistic centre has been gradually decreasing to 450, as stated by the Ministry of Emergency Situations in Belarus, however, other actors involved in the operation are putting the figure as high as 800. The exact number of migrants across Belarus (excluding the logistics centre) is unknown but estimated in the low hundreds (according to the Belarus Red Cross, UNHCR and IOM estimate). Also, migrants are being accommodated in centres in both Lithuania and Poland. In Lithuania, 3,200 people are held in five centres, pending asylum application processes, with the number of cumulative arrivals being equal to 4,332. Since August 2021, 8,200 persons have been pushed-back from the Lithuanian borders. In Poland, 1,675 migrants are in detention centres (with 972 persons being in detention centres for families and the rest in those for men) run by the border guards Some migrants arriving from Belarus during last year are also placed in open centres run by the Office for Foreigners.

While the intensity of the situation has de-escalated, there are humanitarian needs, human rights violations and operational constraints that continue to cause concern. Temporary derogations from EU asylum and return rules are threatening to undermine fair asylum procedures, increase (de facto) detention, prolong registration periods, ease the process for returns, and support pushbacks. In addition, humanitarian actors continue to face limitations in accessing migrants in border areas. As a consequence, migrants, including those with special needs, are not getting the critical assistance or protection to which they are entitled.

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. Latvian Red Cross is also involved in responding to the migration situation on the border between Latvia and Belarus. There have been regular attempts by migrants to cross the border with Latvia, albeit lower numbers than on other border stretches. Local branches of the Latvian Red Cross are providing food, hygiene products and blankets and clothing, and working closely with the border guards and NGOs.

The Ukrainian Red Cross is in the process of strengthening its preparedness for migration scenarios. Based on their ongoing discussions with the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, it has asked their specific support in early January 2022 in preparation of increased number of migrants arriving to Ukraine from Belarus. A small contribution from the contingency budgets of the Emergency Appeal is being planned. The purpose would be to meet the basic needs of vulnerable people detained and improve the detention conditions, including through COVID-19 PPEs, hygiene items and other in-kind assistance.

In Belarus, the situation has calmed down, with no influx of significant number of migrants observed. The number of migrants staying in Belarus has also been significantly reduced due to repatriation flights through which 3,817 Iraqi migrants have been repatriated from Belarus and 112 from Lithuania and and due to the IOM Assisted Voluntary Repatriation and Reintegration Programme which assisted 381 migrants to returned from Belarus to their countries of origin last year. The number of migrants staying in Belarus has also been significantly reduced due to repatriation flights through which 3,817 Iraqi migrants have been repatriated from Belarus and due to the IOM Assisted Voluntary Repatriation and Reintegration Programme which assisted 381 migrants to return to their countries of origin last year. Attempts to cross the border into the EU, at the borders with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, are reported, but they are limited in number and scale, due to harsh winter conditions and strengthened border protection measures. It is widely accepted that, despite continuing repatriation efforts, a caseload of several hundred persons will remain, due to their lack of ability or willingness to repatriate for a variety of reasons.
As the conditions at the logistics centre are not suitable for an extended stay, advocacy efforts for a more appropriate solutions are ongoing.

In Lithuania, over the past few months, the number of illegal border-crossings has fallen significantly. Most people who attempt to cross the Lithuanian border are being pushed back into Belarus. On 15 January 2022, Lithuania ended the State of Emergency at the border, however, the Lithuanian army continues to assist border guards in guarding the border. According to official statistics of the Migration Department under the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania, 97 people, who irregularly entered Lithuania from Belarus, had their asylum application approved, while 3,199 asylum claims were rejected. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, 537 migrants have returned to their countries of origin from Lithuania, 482 of whom did so voluntarily. There are currently 3,200 foreigners living in five reception centres. The Lithuanian government (with the funding from the European Commission) is paying 1,000 euros as an incentive to migrants with irregular status who would voluntarily leave the country by 20 January 2022. Although basic food or allowances for groceries are provided in the reception centres, living conditions are not suitable for long-term stay. As some centres are similar to enclosed buildings (such as former correctional centre) or container houses, migrants might be resentful of the situation and have further traumas in an environment conducive to more frustrations about their situation.

In Poland, the reports by the Polish Border Guard showed a significant decrease of the daily attempts to cross the Polish border during the last month (mid-December 2021 to mid-January 2021) from the side of Belarus - from 500 to 29 daily attempts or persons, due to harsh weather conditions (low temperature, strong wind, high humidity). However, the number of migrants and attempts to cross the border can be expected to increase once the weather is improved. Some migrants are pushed back to Belarus, while some who ask for asylum in Poland, especially families or ill persons are transferred to detention centres. Currently, there are 1,675 persons in the detention centres. At the moment, the Polish Red Cross (PRC) has access to 5 family detention centres and 7 Polish Border Guard stations. The PRC provides migrants with basic food and negotiates gaining an access to other detention centres.