Meanwhile, around 40 people remain stuck on an island between Greece and Turkey with no help and no clothes for over a week
DOZENS of people are being pushed back at the Lithuanian and Latvian borders with Belarus and left to fend for themselves in the snowy forested area for weeks, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned today.
Thousands of people from Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere have tried to find safety in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia since last year, when the Belarusian government began flying asylum-seekers into the country and encouraged them to make the crossing.
Border guards in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have been accused of forcing people back through the fences to Belarus, leaving them without shelter, sufficient food, water and clothing.
MSF added its voice yesterday [Fri] to the growing allegations made by other NGOs, activists and politicians operating in the area.
“Fourteen people, including children, had to be admitted to the hospital in recent weeks,” said Georgina Brown, MSF’s project coordinator in Lithuania and Latvia.
“Several people needed limb amputations, and for some patients it is still unclear if their limbs can be saved. This is preventable and totally unacceptable. People will die if nothing changes.
“A young man told me he spent a week in the forest. When the border guards caught him, his feet hurt so much he was crying.
“He showed them the bad condition of his feet, but they still pushed him back. Now he had to undergo an amputation.”
MSF called on the Lithuanian and Latvian authorities to put an end to those hostile policies, “which are deliberately creating unsafe conditions for people who seek safety and further increasing their suffering.”
At least 27 people have died at the Lithuanian and Latvian borders with Belarus, although the real number might be higher.
Meanwhile, at the other end of Europe, activists warned that a terrible situation was getting worse.
Around 40 people, including about 10 children, have been stranded on an islet in the Evros, the river that separates Greece from Turkey in the north.
The distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone was alerted to the group by relatives of the stranded last Thursday.
Alarm Phone’s activists have contacted the authorities on multiple occasions since then. But the people remain where they are.
On December 11, Alarm Phone posted the following: “The group is still at the Evros river. They say that some men/boys were stripped off their clothes and beaten, and that the pregnant woman and her kids were evacuated towards Greece by unknown people in civilian clothing.
“Border guards in Soufli [a town in the northeast of Greece] didn’t confirm that.”
Yesterday, the European Court of Human Rights issued an interim measure, ruling that the group “should not be removed from Greece” and that they should “be provided with food, water and adequate medical care as needed until further notice.”
However, the group appear to still be there.
Alarm Phone shared the following message from the group this afternoon:
“We are located on a small island in Greek territory and have sent our location many times to all organisations.
“We are displaced from our country because we are persecuted in it.
“We crossed the Turkish border to cross into Greece
“We have many medical conditions, we have people with a respiratory disease… we have heart patients… and there is a person with kidneys… and there is a child with a disability. And there are blood pressure patients and there is a person who was a cancer patient. And we have infants.
“There is a person with fractures and bruises, as a result of the Greek border guards assaulting us. There are young people and the elderly.
“Yes, of course, these people need healthcare, because their medicines have run out, and everyone on the island has rashes now.
“No medical assistance has been provided by any party and we need medical attention.
“We do not have any medical documents or papers. You can come to us for a medical examination and check our health conditions. While we were on the island, we had a skin rash.
“The tips of the fingers and toes were cracked from the cold. And some cases of diarrhoea.
“In the event that we are returned to Turkey, they will imprison us for several weeks or months. Then after that, they will deport us to Syria and hand us over to the Syrian government.
“After that, we will face death and certain imprisonment… There are no documents, but this is confirmed.
“We have great confidence in you and in the judiciary to solve our pending problem for more than 15 days in the freezing cold without the minimum necessities of life.
“We do not have food or drink. We drink water from the river, and this was the cause of many cases of intestinal colic and cases of diarrhoea.
“We had a pregnant woman and her children with us. A boat came and took them and we do not know their fate.
“Yesterday masked people stormed and kidnapped four young men and assaulted us and we do not know their fate.
“We need help as soon as possible. We don’t have too much phone charge possible at any moment our connection is interrupted.
Top image shows a forest covered in snow [Pic: Greenvalley Pictures / Creative Commons]