European rights court calls on Poland, Latvia to aid migrants on Belarus border

Barbered wire is pictured at the Polish-Belarusian border near the village of Usnarz Gorny
Barbered wire is pictured at the Polish-Belarusian border near the village of Usnarz Gorny, Poland, August 23, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

WARSAW, Aug 25 (Reuters) - (This Aug 25 story corrects headline to show European Court of Human Rights is not an EU court.)

The European Court of Human Rights asked the Polish and Latvian governments on Wednesday to intervene to help migrants camped on the Belarus border.

The fate of the migrants has become part of a broader dispute between the European Union and Belarus and groups such as Polish refugee charity Ocalenie Foundation have grown increasingly concerned for their welfare.

The foundation has been communicating with a group of 32 migrants on the Belarus side of the border with Poland, using a translator with a megaphone from a distance. It said on Wednesday 25 of them were unwell, with 12 seriously ill.

It said they had no drinking water and had nothing to eat since Tuesday.

"Fifty-two-year-old Mrs. Gul will soon die in front of her five children. Rescue is needed NOW," it said on Twitter.

It said the woman was from Afghanistan and had two sons and three daughters with her, the youngest of whom was aged 15. It declined to provide further details about her, but said the other migrants there were also from Afghanistan.

Additionally, 41 Iraqi nationals are stuck on the Latvia-Belarus border, news agency BNS reported.

Poland and fellow EU states Lithuania and Latvia have reported sharp increases in migrants from countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq trying to cross their borders.

The European Union accuses Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of orchestrating the arrival of thousands of people at the borders in retaliation for sanctions imposed on the former Soviet republic.

The Belarusian foreign ministry on Tuesday accused Poland of provoking migrant flows from Afghanistan as part of the U.S. coalition, according to the state-run Belta news agency. It blamed the breakdown in border cooperation on the EU.

Poland's Helsinki Committee for Human Rights said this week it had asked the court to implement the temporary measure. read more

The court said it requested "that the Polish and Latvian authorities provide all the applicants with food, water, clothing, adequate medical care and, if possible, temporary shelter".

A Latvian foreign ministry spokesperson said it would cooperate with the court's request.

"Latvia fully respects the interim measures indicated by the Court and will continue to provide food, water and medical help on humanitarian grounds to people at risk. It should be noted that the aforementioned measures include activities that Latvia has already been carrying out," Janis Bekeris told Reuters in a text message.

The Polish government spokesperson couldn't immediately be reached for comment on the ruling.

The court said the measure "should not be understood as requiring that Poland or Latvia let the applicants enter their territories".

Poland, which said this week it would build a fence on the border and double the number of troops there to halt the flow, has said responsibility for the migrants lies with Belarus.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday that a convoy of humanitarian aid offered by Poland had been refused by Minsk. His deputy foreign minister said Belarusian authorities were providing the migrants with water, food and cigarettes.

Belarus authorities were not immediately available to comment on what aid they had been providing.

Reporting by Alan Charlish, Joanna Plucinska and Pawel Florkiewicz; Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams in Kyiv, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Alison Williams and Grant McCool

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