Latvia begins pushing immigrants back at the tense Belarusian border

Latvian, Robeznieki-Latvian border guards have returned dozens of illegal immigrants to Belarus overnight under a new emergency designed to stop the flow of arrivals.

About 30 migrants, including women and toddlers, started a campfire on Wednesday dawn after a night of walking through the fields of northern Belarus to the frontier.

The backlash witnessed by Reuters occurred just hours after Latvia declared an emergency to prevent illegal immigrants, primarily from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, from invading EU member states from Belarus.

A young immigrant in Black Parker, who gave his name as Rawa, said the group was Kurds who flew from Iraq to Istanbul, Turkey, and then to Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

“We wanted to stay here and live in Latvia. In a text sent across the border adjacent to Robeznieki in Latvia, he helped us (because it was so cold).” Said the children were ill.

Detained migrants walk next to the Belarusian-Latvian border near Vorzova
Immigrants will cross the fields next to the Belarusian-Latvian border near Borzoba in Latvia on August 11, 2021. (Ints Kalnins / Reuters)

Lieutenant Colonel Ilmers Icepers, commander of the local Latvian guard, confirmed that the Iraqis had turned their backs and if they would like to apply for asylum, the nearest official border crossing (30 km (20 miles)). ) Was told.

Pushback is a response to the surge in migrants arriving at the Lithuanian, Latvian and Polish borders. They accuse Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of “weaponizing” migrants who have pressured the EU to withdraw sanctions.

International pressure on Belarus has intensified since the crackdown on street protests following last year’s presidential election and voting, which opposition claims to be fraudulent.

The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

‘Help me! The baby is very cold! “

Latvian guards stopped immigrants at Robeznieki around 3 am when the group passed through the fields with only small bags and backpacks.

Immigrants refused to withdraw, resulting in hours of standoffs, during which one shouted in English. The baby is very cold! “

A 31-year-old woman named Relows in Arabic and said she was from Duhok, Iraq, told Reuters that she had walked six hours overnight with her five children. She sat on moist grass with other immigrants and was visibly tired and scared.

In a text message, Rawa asked for help and a phone number from UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. He said Latvian guards shouted to immigrants to return to Belarus and scared them with patrol dogs.

Reuters saw no evidence of violence against immigrants.

Detained migrants walk next to the Belarusian-Latvian border near Vorzova
Immigrants will cross the fields next to the Belarusian-Latvian border near Borzoba in Latvia on August 11, 2021. (Ints Kalnins / Reuters)

Approximately 10 hours after arrival, Rawa returned to the village of Belarus to take a break and send a message that he had a meal.

“We are deeply concerned about the pushback report,” a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Scandinavia Baltic VIII told Reuters.

UNHCR was sending a mission to Latvia to discuss the situation and ensure that its response was in line with international obligations and European law, “said a spokesman.

Minsk Hotel

The Latvian Ministry of Interior said 59 migrants had been returned after the emergency was agreed, but more migrants were allowed and taken to an immigration center.

Latvian security guards told Reuters that a recent arrival of migrants told them to stay in a hotel in Minsk for a few nights before driving towards the Latvian frontier and then walk in a particular direction.

According to security guards, he was told to go to Germany and paid thousands of US dollars for the voyage.

Over the past four nights, guards patrolling the 170 km (105.6 mile) border with Belarus over a range of 36.5 km (22.7 miles) have said they have stopped about 200 people. They were moved to the Musenieki Migration Center near the capital Riga.

By this year, 4,026 people had illegally traveled from Belarus to Lithuania, compared to 74 in 2020, according to the Interior Ministry.

A European Commission spokesman said it was understandable to redirect people to official intersections if they tried to cross the border where immigrants were not allowed.

“Such measures are acceptable as long as the basic right of stakeholders to be protected from rufur (pushback) and access to asylum procedures is always respected,” said a spokesman for EU executives. ..

Latvian Prime Minister Krishyanis Kalins said on Wednesday that EU countries must show that it makes no sense to have Belarus pass migrants to the block.

“The hybrid war with the EU has only added tension to the Belarusian side. According to the Baltic News Service (BNS), Mr. Kalins told local television.

By Gabriela Baczynska