United Nations Asks to Assist Migrants Stuck at Belarus Border After 4 Reported Dead

Two agencies from the United Nations on Tuesday asked to assist migrants stuck at Belarus' border with Poland and Lithuania after four of the migrants were reported dead, the Associated Press reported. A joint statement released Tuesday by the International Organization for Migration and the U.N. Refugee Agency called for an investigation into the deaths and asked for "immediate access" to others who may be trapped at the border "in order to provide lifesaving medical help, food, water and shelter, especially in light of the approaching winter."

Both Poland and Lithuania enacted states of emergency that prohibit anyone but border guards and security personnel from entering some areas along their borders. The two countries are also erecting razor wire fences on their border with Belarus, where many migrants have been illegally attempting the enter the European Union, the AP reported.

The agencies expressed their condolences to the families of those who died and urged the governments to think of human rights and international law first when it comes to managing migrant influxes.

"While states have the sovereign right to manage their borders, this is not incompatible with the respect for human rights including the right to seek asylum. Pushbacks endanger lives and are illegal under international law," the joint statement said.

The agencies added that they were collaborating with authorities in considering alternative options for people still stuck at the borders, "from access to asylum, family reunification procedures, and voluntary return for those found not to be in need of international protection."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Vigil for Deceased Migrants
Two United Nations agencies requested access September 21 to asylum-seekers stranded at Belarus's border with Poland and Lithuania, after four migrants were found dead in the area. Warsaw residents place candles before the national Border Guards Headquarters on September 20 in Warsaw, Poland, as a sign of mourning for four migrants found dead over the weekend along the border between Poland and Belarus. Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo

Poland's authorities said three people who were found dead Sunday close to the Belarusian border died from hypothermia and exhaustion. Polish border guards also saw the body of a woman close to the border, on the Belarus side.

The U.N. agencies, both based in Geneva, said the nationalities of the people who died has not been confirmed, but two of the victims who died of hypothermia were believed to be from Iraq.

The agencies said they were "following with growing concern, reports of pushbacks of people at these borders. Groups of people have become stranded for weeks, unable to access any form of assistance, asylum or basic services. Many were left in dire situations, exposed to the elements, suffering from hypothermia. Some were rescued from swamps."

EU members Poland and Lithuania received an unusual number of migrants and refugees from Belarus in recent months. They allege that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's government is trying to destabilize the 27-nation EU.

The border pressure began after Western countries introduced sanctions on Lukashenko's government over the country's disputed August 2020 presidential election and a crackdown on the opposition.

Poland Builds Fence on Belarus Border
The Polish Ministry of Defence has announced the building of a one hundred kilometer long, two and a half meter high fence along it's border with Belarus after a significant increase in refugee crossings. A Polish soldier works on the construction of the barbed wire fence on the border with Belarus in Zubrzyca Wielka near Bialystok, eastern Poland on August 26. Jaap Arriens/AFP via Getty Images