Berlin, Germany, December 3, 2021 — The International Rescue Committee (IRC) has today announced the launch of an emergency response to the ongoing humanitarian situation at the Poland-Belarus border.
Working in partnership with Stichting Vluchteling (SV), the IRC will bolster the activities of local organisations in Poland, who have been working tirelessly to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees and migrants stranded at the border with Belarus. Several thousand people remain living outside as winter approaches, without reliable access to food, water or medical care, despite reports suggesting that the situation is de-escalating: around 2,000 people have been relocated from camps at the border to warehouses in Belarus and around 2,000 Iraqis have been returned to Iraq, but these remain small improvements amid an appalling situation.
Stefan Lehmeier, IRC Deputy Regional Director for Resettlement, Integration and Asylum programmes in Europe, said,
“The IRC has six years of expertise in supporting the needs of refugees and migrants across Europe, and more than eighty years globally, and will scale up the humanitarian response in Poland by amplifying the work of local organisations who are already on the ground. With our help, asylum seekers who are living in unimaginable conditions will be provided with essential supplies such as clothing, food and water, as well as medical assistance and mental health support.
“Having spent a week on the ground in Poland, I saw for myself the dire humanitarian situation facing thousands of asylum seekers who have been caught in the political crossfire. People have experienced untold violence at the hands of border guards who have pushed people back across the border, in an illegal move under international refugee law. Many have sustained injuries on their journey or been wounded, while others are experiencing hypothermia as a result of sleeping outside in freezing conditions.
“The assistance provided by the IRC and SV is just the tip of the iceberg of support that people need. Poland continues to prevent humanitarian actors from accessing the area where most people are trapped. While the area remains off-limits it is impossible to know what support is being provided, which could prove deadly to those who are stranded. As winter takes hold and temperatures continue to drop, conditions will deteriorate further and more people may lose their lives. People must not be denied access to humanitarian assistance and the IRC urges Poland to allow unfettered humanitarian access to the people who need it most.
“Seeking asylum is a human right, yet a growing number of European states are undermining the right to asylum and failing to protect people at their borders: It is critical that Poland and the EU now set the right example.”
Tineke Ceelen, Director for Stichting Vluchteling, said,
“As European NGOs, we feel an obligation to show our responsibility by launching this emergency response. This crisis is not just a political one, it’s a humanitarian one. It looks like there are human rights violations on a large scale and pushbacks are happening everyday. We urge European politicians to take responsibility themselves and let us and other humanitarian organisations, as well as independent journalist, enter the border area with Belarus.”
The IRC has been responding to humanitarian crises in Europe since 2015, where we launched an emergency response to the peak in migration in Greece and relaunched operations in Serbia. Our teams provided water, health and sanitation, and psychosocial support to refugees and migrants. Since then, the IRC has also provided support to refugees and migrants in Germany from 2016, Italy from 2017, and Bosnia-Herzegovina from 2020. This year, the IRC also started to provide integration support to refugees and their local communities in the UK. To support our response in Poland, you can donate here.
Over 79.5 million people worldwide have fled their homes due to violence, war or human rights violation. Stichting Vluchteling (Netherlands Refugee Foundation) is synonymous with direct aid for victims of acute distress. Worldwide our aim is directed to refugees and displaced persons. We respond to the worlds worst humanitarian crises, providing emergency aid, shelter, medical care food, clean drinking water and sanitary facilities to the ones most in need.
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.