The PRAB Coalition (Protecting Rights at Borders) has published its seventh report on human rights violations of migrants and «pushbacks» (a measure aimed at compelling migrants to return back across the border) at the internal and external borders of the European Union (EU), including the border with Belarus.
Human Constanta and other non-governmental organisations and initiatives across Europe conduct continuous monitoring, document, and gather evidence of illegal practices and restrictions against migrants at the borders. This contributes to strengthening the rights of migrants and advancing strategic legal proceedings to protect those affected.
The latest PRAB report covers the period from 1 May to 31 August 2023. PRAB partners documented 6,169 pushbacks across the EU border and conducted 2,030 interviews with victims of human rights violations. The vast majority (over 83%) of those reporting experiencing pushbacks were adult males. Nearly one-third (31%) of pushbacks affected minors, including unaccompanied or separated children. During this period, numerous reports of violence, inhumane and degrading treatment at the borders, and a lack of access to asylum procedures were collected.
These figures are not comprehensive and only pertain to cases directly witnessed by PRAB partner organisations at the border. In reality, the number of victims of human rights violations at the border may be significantly higher. However, the nature of European border areas, the locations, and the methods used to cross the border (remote and difficult-to-reach areas outside official border crossing points) make it challenging to reach all individuals facing obstacles and related violations.
Regarding Belarus, during the reporting period at the Belarus-EU border, the following developments were observed:
- Belarus and Russia continue to issue visas to foreigners from the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, contributing to increased pressure on the Belarus-EU border. In particular, it became known in May 2023 that the Russian Federation started issuing more visas to migrants from the Middle East, and Belarus introduced a visa-free regime for citizens of 73 countries, including those from the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America, for the duration of the «Slavianski Bazaar» festival. The path to the EU for many migrants involves transit through Turkey and Russia, from where people are transported to Belarus via land borders, where they remain unregistered due to the absence of border control checkpoints.
- On the Polish-Belarusian border, which has become increasingly militarised since May 2023 due to the presence of the Wagner Group in Belarus, confrontations and pushbacks of migrants into Belarus without access to international protection procedures continue. Polish authorities also begin accepting asylum applications only at official border checkpoints along the Belarusian border.
- In August 2023, the Lithuanian government temporarily closed two out of six border crossing points with Belarus due to tension arising from the presence of the Wagner Group in Belarus. Lithuania also detains an increasing number of transit asylum seekers arriving from Latvia. Relatives of detained migrants report that those detained are denied communication with the outside world, their mobile phones are confiscated, and they are denied access to asylum procedures without the intervention of a lawyer.
- Between May and August 2023, at least 402 individuals were subjected to violence by Polish border guards, and 321 individuals by Belarusian border guards. An increase in violence against migrants was also noted by the organisation «Doctors Without Borders.» They reported providing assistance to individuals with serious injuries, including those requiring hospitalisation, as a result of attempting to cross the Belarus-EU border. People were subjected to beatings (with hands and batons), complete stripping, humiliation, denial of access to toilets, food, and water, as well as the confiscation and destruction of their belongings, including clothing, shoes, phones, and food.
- Incidents of people dying while attempting to reach the EU border and cross it continue, and the number of individuals who have gone missing at the border is also on the rise. Border authorities, activists, and human rights defenders have reported this. The exact number of missing and deceased migrants at the EU border is unknown.