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Forest - Tracks in the snow (01)

People repeatedly repelled at Lithuania and Latvia borders face increased suffering

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Vilnius — Dozens of peopleThese are not MSF statistics, but open-source data published by the respective border guard services.

attempting to seek refuge in the European Union continue to be pushed back at the Lithuanian and Latvian borders with Belarus and are left to languish in the forest for up to several weeks, says Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). MSF urges the Lithuanian and Latvian authorities to stop all border pushbacks, which only serve to traumatise migrants and cause serious injuries, denying people the right to seek safety.

“Fourteen people, including children, had to be admitted to hospital in recent weeks,” said Georgina Brown, MSF 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,” said Brown. “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. He has since had to undergo an amputation.”

People, including children, had to be admitted to hospital in recent weeks... This is preventable and totally unacceptable. People will die if nothing changes. Georgina Brown, MSF Lithuania and Latvia project coordinator

In the last year, thousands of people from countries including Iraq, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Cameroon, and Afghanistan have attempted to cross the border from Belarus into Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Governments of all three countries restricted access to their borders and declared a state of emergency.

Border guards in Lithuania and Latvia force people back through the fence, leaving them without shelter. People remain stranded in the forest, lacking sufficient food and water; such pushbacks are becoming a de facto practice. Last winter, at the end of 2021/beginning of 2022, at least 27 people died at these borders, although the real number may be higher.

The ongoing pushbacks deny migrants their basic rights, like asking for asylum or getting medical attention. We are horrified that pushbacks continue, as the freezing temperatures in Lithuania and Latvia result in more serious conditions, including frostbite and hypothermia.  

Despite the harsh winter conditions, pushbacks continue daily, with no respect for human dignity and rights.  MSF calls on the Lithuanian and Latvian authorities to put an end to these hostile policies, which deliberately create unsafe conditions for people who seek safety, and further increases their suffering.

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