Latvia has extended a state of emergency along its border with Belarus. The move will allow border guards to continue sending back migrants who cross into the Baltic state.
Latvia imposed a state of emergency at the border with Belarus almost a year ago, when thousands of migrants tried to cross the European Union's external borders into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
The EU accused the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of deliberately flying people from the Middle East into Minsk and sending them to EU border states in order to destabilize the West.
Poland also imposed a state of emergency, preventing journalists and human rights workers from visiting the border. It built a 5.5m steel wall 186km long, to prevent irregular crossings from Belarus.
The number of migrants entering Latvia has fallen, according to the country’s interior ministry, but border guards are still encountering migrants trying to enter from Belarus.
Latvia's official figures show that border authorities have prevented almost 6,800 attempts by migrants to cross the border since August 2021.
This is the fourth time the Latvian government has extended the state of emergency, which will expire on November 10. It is in force in the municipalities of Ludza, Krāslava, Augšdaugava, and Daugavpils, Latvian state media reported.
Human rights commissioner concerned
On the same day the extension was announced, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic published a letter to the Latvian interior minister expressing significant concern about the situation at the border with Belarus, in particular reports that migrants had been subjected to violence, inhumane conditions in the forest, denied access to asylum and forced into signing voluntary return declarations.
Mijatovic called on Latvia to allow aid workers and the media full access to the border areas. "The state of emergency… has not only prevented effective transparency and accountability for measures taken in the border region, but has also significantly restricted the important work of organizations engaged in protecting the human rights of refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants," she said.
In his reply to the Commissioner, Interior Minister Kristaps Eklons denied that complaints had been received of foreigners being forced to sign voluntary return declarations.