Migrants in Belarus were beaten, threatened, forced to pay extortionate sums for food and water by soldiers, according to reports gathered by UN observers. Migrants were also reportedly forced to cross the border into Poland.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) denounced the treatment of migrants in Belarus on Tuesday (December 21), based on the reports gathered by a team of UN observers that visited Poland from November 29 to December 3.
Migrants report being beaten, threatened
The majority of migrants interviewed by the team in Poland said that, "while in Belarus, they had been beaten or threatened by security forces, and also alleged that the Belarusian security forces forced them to cross the border", OHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell said. Moreover, several interviewees reported that Belarusian security forces had demanded "extortionate sums for food and water," Throssell added.
OHCHR demanded authorities to investigate these "disturbing allegations", a statement said. Throssell called on Poland and Belarus to conduct prompt, independent and thorough investigations to ensure their security forces fully comply with human rights obligations.
Stuck at the Belarusian-Polish border
Migrants and refugees in the Belarusian-Polish border area face dire conditions on both sides, according to the OHCHR. Thousands hoping to get to Western Europe have been stuck in the border region for weeks and months -- many are living outside in freezing cold temperatures. Western countries have accused Belarus of facilitating the flow of migrants in retaliation for measures imposed to the regime over its crackdown on opposition members.
During their visit in late November and early December, OHCHR observers were reportedly not able to visit Belarus because they were denied access. They were also not allowed into the restricted border area in Poland, according to OHCHR.
"We urge authorities of both countries to allow access to the border areas for human rights and humanitarian actors, journalists, lawyers, as well as civil society representatives, and to stop practices that put refugees and other migrants at risk," Throssell said.