The International Organization for Migration (IOM) announced Monday that it was increasing resources for humanitarian aid for migrants on the Poland-Belarus border, in addition to providing additional options for repatriation and voluntary return to their home countries. The IOM estimates that there are currently 2,000 migrants on the border and that many are vulnerable to increasingly cold winter weather.
The IOM has been joined by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Belarus Red Cross to dispatch humanitarian aid to the migrants involved in the ongoing border dispute between Poland and Belarus in recent months. Over the past few weeks, Belarusian authorities have granted permission for international aid groups to provide food, clothing, hygiene kits, and clean water to the migrants, many of whom are living outside without reliable shelter. Several deaths have been reported due to hypothermia on the border, which has increased the urgency to administer aid.
While humanitarian concerns have taken immediate priority, the IOM also stated that it was exploring a variety of options to assist in voluntary departures for migrants who wished to return to their home countries. This includes scheduling charter flights and dialogue with migrants’ home countries to expand options for repatriation.
Iraq announced last week that hundreds of Iraqi citizens had voluntarily returned to Iraq on Iraqi Airways flights from Minsk facilitated by the Iraqi government. Iraqi Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Al-Sahaf said that the government’s priority was to evacuate women, children, and the elderly, and that Iraqi diplomatic teams were continuing to secure voluntary return for additional Iraqi citizens on the border.
For those who do not wish to return home, it is unclear at this time what options they may have for continuing across the border to seek asylum. While the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reminded both Poland and Belarus that all migrants have a right to seek asylum and not be immediately turned away, a report last week from Human Rights Watch indicated that Polish border guards have increasingly turned migrants away without offering them the chance to seek asylum. Such “pushbacks” would likely be considered illegal under international refugee law.