The human rights mission Human Constanta, which studies the life of refugees from the North Caucasus in Brest, presented a report on the situation at the Belarusian-Polish border.
Are there any refugees?
- According to our estimates, there are between one and three thousands of, so to speak, potential refugees as these people have no status at all. They came mainly from the North Caucasus - Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, - and they are trying to get asylum in Poland. They get to the border by train Brest - Terespol where Polish Border Guards tell them "you do not have a visa, you must leave." People say they are seeking asylum and the response they get is: "We did not hear it" – says Aliaksei Kazliuk, the co-founder of the human rights organization Human Constanta.
But is it correct to call the people seeking asylum in Poland refugees? On the one hand, representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Poland say it's not their mandate as people are within the territory of another state. The Belarusian side says the same as no one is seeking asylum in Belarus.
- We call them refugees, Polish Border Guards say they are not refugees and international institutions also state they do not recognize these people as refugees. That is, they are "invisible" refugees. Yes, there is a certain percentage of economic migrants among them and there are people fleeing from persecution as well. But we are definitely not the people to judge who deserves legal or humanitarian aid, and who does not.
The lawyer explains that according to Polish legislation border guards must take a statement from these people, either orally or in writing, let them cross the border and transfer them to the civil service conducting inspection and deciding on asylum eligibility. But this mechanism fails already at the stage of border control. Every day 10 - 15 people get the permission to cross the Polish border, the rest are turned away to Belarus. Many have to make several dozen attempts to cross the border - and, sometimes, on the 40th attempt people unexpectedly have luck. However human rights activists do not understand what kind of pattern works here yet.
Life "in limbo"
Valdzis Fugash, another co-founder of Human Constanta, explained to "EuroBelarus" Information Service that these people have no other way to seek asylum abroad. According to the information human rights defenders possess, refugees cannot cross the border at the rest of the border crossings from Belarus to Poland or Lithuania at all. The path to Ukraine is also closed for them due to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict as they are Russian citizens.
These people are in a situation of a forced or voluntary migration, but it is necessary to understand the situation here as well. We have a range of stories of people who suffered from political persecution, physical threatening to their family and themselves, - cautiously reveals some details Valdzis Fugash. - Not everyone has the proof of what happened to them, because, when talking about the Chechen Republic, there have recently been some mechanism allowing at least a minor fixation of human rights violations. But it has been nearly two years since the last human rights organization has stopped its work in Chechnya. Local authorities gained even more control over the Prosecutor's Office, the Investigative Committee and other structures, and now they even do not investigate allegations of human rights violations. For when someone is trying to highlight their problem, it automatically turns the repression machine against the person and their family.
The problem is further complicated by the fact that the refugees are reluctant to talk about themselves. Since the Chechen Republic is a part of the Russian Federation and Belarus has no border with Russia, refugees are afraid of persecution on the territory of Belarus. Moreover, there have already been such precedents after publishing journalistic materials. For this reason, the Chechens (who make the majority of refugees at the Belarusian-Polish border) are afraid to ask Belarusian law enforcement agencies for help as well.
A litmus test for the Belarusian society
First of all since the law is not implemented lawyers consider the situation in Brest as a legal problem, but the problem of humanitarian aid is just as acute. The refugees left their motherland in summer, many do not have any warm clothes. They are also in need of medicines and are running out of money, some of them have neither food to eat nor a place to live. This September a mass action to collect aid took in the event space "CECH" in Minsk. People keep bringing things for refugees to the volunteers nowadays too, for example, there is a fixed place for collecting aid in "KaliLaska" store in Minsk, Brest residents help collecting aid as well.
Human rights activists did not expect the problem and their mission accordingly to expand so much when they first arrived in Brest in early September. Since then a report was made on the issue, it was translated into three languages (Russian, English and Polish) and sent to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, the Polish human rights activists, the network of European human rights organizations as well as official institutions in Poland and border services. Belarusian human rights activists also met with a number of experts on the subject.
- It is important to understand that all people are equal. The situation in Brest is a litmus test of how developed our society is, whether we are ready to help. We often hear: "Why are you helping the Chechens, don’t you have other problems? You should help the Belarusians first”. Similarly, the Belarusians could find themselves in trouble, seeking asylum in another country. It is normal to help people regardless of their nationality, religion or other factors, - Aliaksei Kazliuk summed up.