The UN Refugee Agency on Friday appealed for urgent action to save lives and prevent further suffering at the border between Belarus and the EU after the latest death of an asylum-seeker was reported this week.
"This is now the eighth death to be reported in this border region, where several groups of asylum-seekers, refugees, and migrants have been stranded for weeks in increasingly dire conditions,” the UNHCR said in a statement, citing Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.
The EU had voiced concern on Thursday on a new Polish law allowing border guards to immediately expel migrants who cross the border illegally.
The refugee agency has warned that the situation would further and rapidly deteriorate as winter approaches, putting more lives in danger.
"When fundamental human rights are not protected, lives are at stake. It is unacceptable that people have died, and the lives of others are precariously hanging in the balance," said Pascale Moreau, the UNHCR's Regional Director for Europe.
Moreau underlined that these migrants are being "held hostage by a political stalemate which needs to be solved now."
According to the refugee agency, among those stranded at the border are people with international protection needs, including 32 Afghan women, children, and men.
The UNHCR said they have been left "in limbo" at the border between Poland and Belarus since mid-August in dire conditions and are unable to access asylum or any other form of assistance on either side.
They do not have proper shelter or protection from the elements and no safe food or water sources, it added.
Sixteen Afghans from this group attempted to cross into Poland this week only to be apprehended and denied the opportunity to apply for asylum, the UNHCR learned.
They were also denied access to legal assistance.
That group was subsequently pushed back across the border to Belarus within a few hours.
The UNHCR said it had not been granted access to meet with the group from the Polish side despite repeated requests and could only access them a few times from the Belarusian side to deliver life-saving aid.
It said that it has been advocating for the group to have asylum since the Afghans expressed their wish to seek asylum in Belarus or Poland.
However, their asylum request has been ignored by both sides, constituting a clear violation of international refugee law and international human rights law, it added.
"We urge Belarus and Poland, as signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention, to abide by their international legal obligations and provide access to asylum for those seeking it at their borders," said Moreau.
"Pushbacks that deny access to territory and asylum violate human rights in breach of international law."/aa