Human rights organization Human Constanta has collected information about the migration situation with "transit refugees" and is sharing a thematic report on this page. We call this situation a "humanitarian crisis" and recommend, among other things, organizing a humanitarian corridor for the 1,000 people who are still in Belarus.
A unique migration situation has begun to develop in Belarus since the beginning of summer 2021. Lithuania and Latvia, and then Poland, recorded the increasing number of attempts to cross the border with Belarus illegally by third-country citizens. At first, an effort was made to find the natural causes of the increased flow of irregular migration through Belarus — a seasonal increase in the number of migrants, a growing number of conflicts and human rights violations in countries of origin, etc. However, it gradually became clear that this migration movement was organized by the state in order to destabilize the situation at the border between Belarus and the countries of the European Union (EU). Such actions of the Belarusian authorities ultimately led to the humanitarian crisis both at the border with the EU countries and inside the country.
This report is based on the information collected by the human rights organization Human Constanta since the beginning of summer 2021 from open sources, including officially presented statistics from the border services of Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, as well as testimonies of refugees/migrants in transit who are in the territory of Belarus or have already left the country. While preparing the report, we took into account the information collected by human rights organizations in the countries also affected by the humanitarian crisis. The most problematic issue is statistics: most of the data can only be collected by government agencies, which often either do not want to collect information or do not want to give access to it. Therefore, the figures presented may remain a controversial aspect of this report.
Terminology aspect

There are many terms to refer to people who move from one country to another for various reasons: migrant, refugee, asylum seeker, etc. Some of the terms, such as "refugee" or "asylum seeker", have legal frameworks established in international agreements or domestic legislation, and may differ in their meaning.

In Belarusian legislation, the term "refugee" is narrowed down to the definition of "a person who has received a refugee status as a result of a special procedure, that is, by the decision of a state body." Therefore, to refer to citizens of third countries who arrived in the territory of Belarus with the purpose to cross the border with the EU countries, we choose the specific term "transit migrants and refugees", which most clearly highlights the difficult status of people who ended up in the territory of Belarus while seeking protection in the EU countries. According to the glossary of the European Commission, "refugees in transit" are refugees who have been temporarily admitted in the territory of a State under the condition that they are resettled elsewhere. In fact, that is precisely the position these foreigners are in. The authorities of Belarus understood the purpose of their arrival in Belarus, controlled their stay in the territory of the country, and limited the access to the international protection procedure in their territory.
Despite the huge increase in the number of foreign citizens in border regions of Belarus and the rhetoric of the majority of media covering what's happening, our organization does not consider these events to be a migration crisis. The situation is not the result of reduced political stability or increasing level of violence, war, or natural disaster in the countries of the Middle East and Africa, from where the transit refugees have come. The situation is not a spontaneous response to what is happening in the world, it is completely orchestrated by the Belarusian government. Already in October and November 2021, the results of journalistic investigations showed that in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey, travel agencies purposefully advertised trips to Belarus subsequently offering housing and employment in the EU countries.

Since the spring of 2021, the number of flights to Belarus from the countries of the Middle East has also begun increasing. It should be noted that despite the growing numbers throughout the entire crisis, even in its acute phases, it was about several tens of thousands of migrants. The admission of such a number of people by Belarus or neighboring EU countries would not cause a complete collapse of the internal migration management system. All this indicates that the current situation is not a migration crisis. However, given the situation in which people have found themselves upon arrival in Belarus — namely, lack of access to food, water, medical care; forced stay in unacceptable living conditions in the forests at the border; intimidation and beatings by the authorities — we are dealing with a humanitarian crisis ongoing in the cities and border regions of Belarus and neighboring EU countries.
Human rights assessment
There are a number of direct and indirect factors that have influenced the choice of transit refugees to cross the border between Belarus and the EU countries illegally. One of the indirect causes of the ongoing crisis is the lack of legal channels to enter the EU for the majority of people coming from "migration-disadvantaged" or destabilized regions of the world.
People in such regions often cannot get a visa to enter the EU countries or immediately apply for international protection through diplomatic missions. The laws of most countries include the rule according to which one can apply for protection either at the border point or already in the territory of the destination state. As a result, people are forced to find alternative routes to enter the countries where they want to seek protection.

In addition to this factor, propaganda was carried out for several months in the countries where the majority of transit refugees came from, and people were misled about the possibility of moving to the EU countries through the territory of Belarus. Such advertising of illegal border crossing became popular for another reason — lack of knowledge and understanding of legal procedures and laws of other countries.
During the survey of transit refugees in Minsk, we had to explain to them basic aspects of applying for international protection in the EU countries without violating the border crossing regime, the rule of the first safe country of entry in order to apply for protection. Such lack of understanding and missing awareness of one's own rights and obligations, as well as deceptive practices applied by the organizers of the migration detained and routes put transit refugees in an even more vulnerable position and increased the risk of people being denied in their applications for protection.

In addition to the low level of awareness, it's necessary to note the physical obstacles created by Belarusian border guards in applying for protection at official border points. On November 8, 2021, it became known about large groups of refugees in transit who arrived at the crossing point on the border between Belarus and Poland. According to media reports, employees of the Belarusian Border Service did not let migrants to the crossing point itself but sent people to the forest near the border. Such actions of the Belarusian authorities forced people to break the law and cross the border with Poland violating the established regime. This approach ultimately led to the escalation of the conflict at the border and casualties among migrants.
At the same time, refugees in transit were deprived of the opportunity to apply for protection after crossing the border between Belarus and the EU countries. Cases of illegal refusal by the staff of the Lithuanian and Polish Border Services to accept oral and written applications for international protection, as well as the practice of forcible return of transit refugees from the territory of Poland to the territory of Belarus, repeatedly took place.
Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia are parties to the main international and European agreements in the field of asylum seekers' treatment. Thus, these countries have made a commitment to comply with international standards related to asylum seekers' treatment and with the obligations of human rights protection. According to the legal acts of the European Union in the field of migration and asylum, the Member States are obliged to consider applications for asylum submitted by foreigners on the border or in the territory of the country. Moreover, every foreigner who has applied for protection, regardless of how the border has been crossed, must receive guarantees of non-expulsion from the state until a decision on the application for protection is made. The national legislation of the participating country must guarantee the right of foreigners to appeal against the refusal. Until a decision on the application is made, the foreigner must be allowed to reside in the territory of the state in which the application for protection is being considered. In practice, it means that the EU countries must accept applications for protection from migrants arriving from the territory of Belarus by any means, including illegal ones, as well as provide an individual assessment of such applications following the established procedure.
It should also be noted that countries on both sides of the border restricted access to transit refugees for activists, journalists, and civil society representatives, which also contributed to the humanitarian crisis aggravation. In July, Lithuania, and in September 2021, Poland declared the state of emergency in the border areas.
In the territory under a state of emergency, it was prohibited to hold mass events, the entry of people who didn't live in that territory. Besides, access to the public information about activities related to the protection of the state border and counteracting illegal migration was limited. In the territory of Belarus, people were often kept in the forests in the border zone, where access without special permission was also prohibited. As a result, from both sides of the border, those who wished could not get access to transit refugees as well as information about what was happening at the border.

It is worth mentioning that while the Belarusian authorities completely disregarded the rule of law, including the unilateral suspension of the Readmission Agreement with the EU, Polish and Lithuanian authorities tried to adapt the current legislation to new challenges.
Thus, on July 13, 2021, at an extraordinary meeting, the Seimas of Lithuania adopted a resolution in which it was proposed to consider foreigners who did not have identity documents and crossed the border between Belarus and Lithuania violating the migration regime as participants of a hybrid attack by Belarus. The document did not define the concept of "hybrid attack" and did not qualify it from the point of view of international law. The Seimas also approved amendments to the Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners, according to which foreigners might be detained and their right to leave their place of residence might be limited if they entered the country or crossed the border illegally during martial law or state of emergency. The new version of the Law limited the right to judicial review for migrants who were denied asylum and established that migrants could be deported even while their appeals were being considered. Thus, the Law allowed to massively detain illegally arrived foreigners and significantly restricted their access to legal protection. Several thousand transit refugees were detained in the territory of Lithuania and placed in conditions in which they were limited in access to information, services of interpreters, advice from human rights activists and lawyers who could provide qualified assistance and monitor the implementation of minimum detention standards by state authorities.
Furthermore, to reduce the number of cases of illegal border crossing, Lithuania made some positive changes in internal procedures, providing, from September 2021, the opportunity to apply for asylum not only at the Lithuanian border crossing points or the migration department in Lithuania, but also at the Lithuanian Embassy in Belarus. Such an approach should have simplified the process of applying for protection in Lithuania for people who were already in the territory of Belarus. The main difficulty was that at the moment of submitting applications through the embassy, transit refugees had to stay in Belarus legally, that is, they had to have valid visas. When the procedure was launched, Belarusian visas of many people had already expired and, accordingly, they could not apply on formal grounds. Besides, we are not aware of successful cases of submission and acceptance of applications for protection by transit refugees through the Lithuanian embassy. The decision, among other things, does not elaborate on the procedure for appealing against refusals to grant protection, taking into account the fact that a foreigner is located in the territory of Belarus and does not have physical access to the Lithuanian courts.
In August 2021, the Council of Ministers of Poland also adopted a draft law amending the law on foreigners and the law on granting protection to foreigners in the territory of the Republic of Poland. According to the Polish government, the purpose of such changes is to adapt the legislation to the current migration situation, as well as counteract "abuse of the procedure for granting international protection by foreigners." According to the new version of the law on foreigners, if a foreigner has been detained immediately after crossing the border, the case for his expulsion is not initiated, and the head of the border crossing point drafts a protocol and issues an order to deport the foreigner from the territory of Poland and ban entry to Poland and other Schengen area countries for a period between 6 months and 3 years. The decision may be appealed to the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Border Service, but an appeal does not suspend the execution of the expulsion decision. This approach significantly speeds up the procedure of expelling a foreigner from the territory of Poland and restricts the rights of foreigners to appeal decisions on their expulsion. Moreover, as there is no procedure for judicial proceedings in cases of expulsion of foreigners, there is a risk of abuse by the Polish border guards.
At the same time, during the period of the entry ban, foreigners are prohibited from entering and asking for protection not only in Poland but also in any country that is a member of the Schengen Agreement. In the law on granting protection to foreigners in the territory of the Republic of Poland, there is a new provision stating that an application for international protection may be left without consideration if it has been submitted by a detained foreigner who crossed the border violating the law. Exceptions include cases when a foreigner has arrived directly from a territory where his life or freedom is threatened by the risk of persecution or the risk of serious harm, while he has presented valid reasons for illegal entry to the territory of the Republic of Poland and applied for international protection immediately after crossing the border. That is, in the current situation, transit refugees from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and other countries who have crossed the border between Belarus and Poland violating the law cannot apply for protection in Poland as they have arrived from the territory of the country where they were not in danger. All these changes mean automatic denials of applications for international protection and immediate expulsion without guarantees of a fair hearing.
The lack of political will shown by Belarus and neighboring EU countries and fragmented compliance with basic standards in the treatment of asylum seekers have led to a catastrophic humanitarian situation. Transit refugees have become hostages of the political situation without access to the most basic things necessary for life. This is another demonstration that migration policy requires coordination at the local, national, and international levels among governments, NGOs, and private actors. Moreover, it should be proactive, which will help prevent many crises and reduce the risk to the life and health of forced migrants.
Rights of foreign citizens in Belarus until summer 2021
Human Constanta has been dealing with the human rights of foreign citizens and stateless people in Belarus for more than five years. The Human Constanta team works directly with these people located in the territory of Belarus, as well as conducts ongoing analysis of national and international legislation and law enforcement practice in the field of migration, including advocacy activities at various levels.

Since 2016 Human Constanta has been monitoring the situation at the Belarusian-Polish border in Brest, where transit refugees arrived from the North Caucasus of Russia and some other countries and tried to apply for asylum at the Terespol border crossing point in Poland. People made attempts mainly on the Brest-Terespol train, which facilitated monitoring and data collection. The Human Constanta team interviewed people daily upon arrival of the train and recorded the number of people who tried to apply for protection in Poland.

We are also engaged in fragmented monitoring of applications for international protection in Belarus. It should be noted that related information from the state authorities is not sufficient. The website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus (hereinafter referred to as the Ministry of Internal Affairs) provides incomplete statistics — only the total number of people who applied for refugee status, the number of those who were granted refugee status or another form of protection, as well as the country of origin of such people. For this reason, we cannot assess on what basis and how legitimately people are usually denied protection in Belarus.
According to official statistics, 589 people applied for refugee status or additional protection in Belarus in 2020, and only 5 people received refugee status, 449 people received additional protection for 1 year (most of which — 421 people — are citizens of Ukraine). Having reviewed official statistics over several years, we have found out that citizens of countries such as Egypt and Yemen, as a rule, receive only additional protection in Belarus. There are also known facts when the authorities refused to grant refugee status and made decisions to expel citizens of Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, despite, among other things, ongoing armed conflicts in these countries. At the same time, citizens of Ghana, Somalia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, and some other states where gross violations of human rights are practiced did not receive any protection in Belarus.

Belarus does not yet have an effective mechanism for providing international protection. The procedure for applying for protection itself is complex and non-transparent, does not presuppose trust in the applicants, and is not always clear to applicants, especially those who do not speak Russian or English. The percentage of positive decisions is low. Applicants often face unprofessional treatment of employees at the local level, discrimination and lack of political will to establish an effective system for providing international protection in Belarus. In its 2017/18 annual report on the human rights situation in the world, Amnesty International stated that Belarus does not yet have a functioning asylum system and that the country had repeatedly extradited people in need of international protection to the authorities of their countries where such individuals faced a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment. Since then, the situation has not changed, which is confirmed by the Amnesty International report for 2019, and is also proven by the recent practice known to us. If people are refused to be provided with protection or if their application for protection is refused to be accepted at all, there is a high risk of deportation to their country of origin, where these people may face persecution / torture / extrajudicial executions.

In our work, we have faced numerous cases when people were refused to be given protection despite the direct threat to people in their countries of citizenship: Mehrdad Jamshidian (refusal despite the threat of the death penalty in Iran), Syrian citizens (refusal on formal grounds (violation of the rule of "the first safe country to seek protection"), despite the ongoing armed conflict in the country of their citizenship), Hijri Mamash (threat of unjustified persecution and torture in Turkey). It should be noted here that Belarus has repeatedly ignored the decisions and requests of international organizations and decided to extradite people from the country contrary to the views of the UN Human Rights Committee (hereinafter - HRC).

On top of that, after the presidential elections in 2020, the attitude of state bodies towards foreign citizens is generally worsening and a large-scale legal collapse in Belarus is happening. During the period from August to December 2020 alone, we became aware of more than 170 cases of detention of foreign citizens in Belarus and their further deportation from Belarus in the absence of a fair procedure for appealing against such decisions and obvious political motives for persecution.

Taking into consideration the current protection system in Belarus, the general human rights situation, especially after August 2020, and the involvement of the Belarusian authorities in creating a humanitarian crisis on the border with the EU countries, Belarus cannot be considered a safe country for people in a vulnerable situation and seeking asylum in third countries.

Chronology of the humanitarian crisis on the border between Belarus and EU countries
On May 26, 2021, Alexander Lukashenko [speaking in front of the Belarusian Parliament] said that earlier "we stopped drugs and migrants – now you will take drugs and catch migrants by yoursel ves ." This message, addressed to the leaders of the EU countries, eventually led to the creation of the humanitarian crisis both on the western borders of Belarus and within the country.
We can consider the beginning of summer of 2021 as the start of the first changes in the migration situation on the border of Belarus and neighboring EU countries . Reports published by the competent authorities of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia record a dramatic increase in the number of attempts to cross the border of EU countries with Belarus bypassing the established order during that period of time. So, from January 1 to May 25, 2021, 78 of such attempts were recorded on the Belarusian-Polish border; in turn, in June 2021 alone, Polish border guards reported the detention of 127 migrants. A similar increase was noted in the reports published by the Lithuanian authorities (37 detained migrants in the first 5 months of 2021 against 474 detentions in June 2021 alone) and Latvia (23 detentions in July against 969 in August 2021 alone).

Political actors both at the national and at the EU level directly accused the Belarusian authorities of using migrants in order to put pressure on the EU. Thus, in her speech on July 2, 2021, the Head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen called the influx of migrants to Lithuania across the border with Belarus being "politically motivated". In turn, on July 14, 2021, the Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland called Belarus a "travel agency for illegal migrants" and threatened it with sanctions; in a statement by the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense dated July 20 of the same year, it was claimed that Belarus was using "illegal migration" as a tool for a hybrid attack against Lithuania.
Lithuania was the first country to start acting actively in response to the humanitarian crisis. On July 2, 2021, a state of emergency was introduced in the country; Starting from mid-July, the Lithuanian government began building a barbed wire fence along the Lithuanian-Belarusian border and decided to build a border barrier. For its part, the EU sent Frontex officers to those areas where attempts to cross the border outside the checkpoints were recorded.
On August 4, 2021, Belarusian pro-governmental media for the first time reported the death of a "person of non-Slavic appearance" on the border with Lithuania. In turn, the head of the Lithuanian Ministry of Interior Affairs claimed that the spread of such information is an example of a hybrid war against the EU performed by Belarus.
On August 6, 2021, the Lithuanian mass media published a video where people in camouflage uniforms do not allow migrants to return to the territory of Belarus. Shortly after that the former head of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also showed video footage dated September 2, 2021, confirming the involvement of Belarusian border guards in creating a humanitarian crisis.
The actions of the Lithuanian authorities were aimed not only at preventing migration flows, but also at resolving the issue with refugees who already entered the territory of their country. To this end, on August 7, 2021, an initiative was announced providing for Lithuania's consent to immediate compensation of 300 euros to those migrants who agree to voluntarily return to their countries of origin.
On August 10, 2021, the Latvian Cabinet of Ministers declared a state of emergency. It was introduced in the areas bordering Belarus for a period until November 10, 2021. The reason was the change in the migration situation. On August 13, 2021, the Latvian side published a video showing Belarusian border guards pushing migrants across the border to the territory of Latvia.
On August 17, 2021, the Cabinet of Ministers of Poland adopted a draft law amending the law on foreigners and the law on granting protection to foreigners on the territory of the Republic of Poland. According to the Polish government, such changes are aimed at adapting legislation to the current migration situation, as well as at taking action on "abuse of the procedure for granting international protection performed by foreigners."
On September 1, 2021, humanitarian aid was delivered to the border with Poland for the first time from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Belarusian Red Cross Society. At the same time, a distinctive feature of this assistance was that from the position of the Belarusian authorities (the message of the border committee) it follows that the migrants are on the territory of Poland, while the Polish authorities consider the Republic of Belarus to be the country where transit refugees are located.
On September 2, 2021, the President of Poland signed a decree on the introduction of a state of emergency in the regions neighboring Belarus. Later on, the regime was extended until December 30, 2021. The Polish authorities motivated their actions by the existing threat to the security of their citizens and to public order connected with the situation on the border with Belarus.
On September 8, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights, in its interim measure in the case A.S. and Others v. Lithuania stated that Afghan citizens applying for protection in Lithuania should not be removed to Belarus [provided that they are already on the territory of Lithuania].
September 19, 2021 - a report about three bodies found on the territory of Poland (on the same day, the Belarusian state media reported about a dead woman found on the territory of Belarus).
On September 22, 2021, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania decided on the possibility of submitting an asylum application at the country's embassy in Belarus (in our opinion, the procedure has a number of difficulties).
On September 25, 2021, representatives of the Polish border service showed a video where Belarusian border guards were helping migrants to cross the border illegally.
Besides the fact that the state organized a migration flow in order to put pressure on the EU countries, the Belarusian side took certain actions throughout the entire humanitarian crisis, which significantly influenced its dynamics. Thus, on October 13, 2021, Belarus officially suspended the readmission agreement with the EU, an important and also symbolic document (since 2021 was a preparatory stage for the implementation of the agreement), indicating the readiness of the country's authorities to cooperate with the EU in the areas concerning settlement of migration relations. On the same day, the Belarusian consulate at the Minsk airport stopped issuing visas to citizens of Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Iran and Nigeria.
October 25, 2021 - the first report from the Polish side about an attempt of transit refugees to break through the border by force.
November 4, 2021 — Polish Minister of Defense Mariusz Blaszczak published a photo of Belarusian border guards with scissors for cutting barbed wire. The Polish side in every possible way tried to confirm the fact that the Belarusian border guards are directly involved in the dismantling of the border infrastructure (a report with similar accusations was published by the Polish border service on November 13, 2021).
On November 8, 2021, the reports appeared about a refugee camp in the area of the Bruzgi border crossing point. The number of people who were in the border areas was about 4 thousand people.
On November 9, 2021, the Seim of Lithuania approved the government's proposal to introduce a state of emergency on the border with Belarus.
On November 15, 2021, a call took place between Alexander Lukashenko and Angela Merkel; The main topic of conversation was the situation with transit refugees on the border of Belarus and neighboring EU countries.
On November 16, 2021, clashes took place in the area of the Bruzgi border crossing point: migrants stormed the border crossing point and threw stones at Polish border guards, who responded with tear gas, water cannons, and stun grenades. The consequences of these clashes were unexpected - the Belarusian side placed some of the migrants in the Bruzgi logistics center; later on, in the logistics center, people had the opportunity to receive medical care / get vaccinated / get an overnight stay. However, it should be noted that representatives of both Belarusian NGOs and international organizations were deprived of the opportunity to provide any assistance to forced migrants directly. By the end of December 2021, according to the information provided by state media, about 600 people continued to stay at the logistics center.
In November 2021, the practice of refusing citizens of certain states (Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen) to board the flights to Minsk became relevant. In the middle of the month, information appeared that the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow organized evacuation flights from Belarus for its citizens wishing to return to Iraq. The last media report about the evacuation flight that took off from Minsk to Erbil is dated December 17, 2021. Including the flight mentioned above, which had 257 people on board, the total number of migrants who took the evacuation flights was [at least] 3,813. At the same time, it should be noted that transit refugees also returned to their countries of origin on their own, as some evacuation flights were canceled.
As of December 21, 2021, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that 21 people died on the border between Poland and Belarus in 2021.
As of February 8, 2022, there still were 713 transit refugees in the transport and logistics center in Bruzgi, among which 270 were children.

Data on the number of attempts to illegally cross the border, published by the competent authorities of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, reflects an unprecedented number of migrants for our region and the scale of the humanitarian crisis. In 2021, more than 39,000 attempts were made to cross the border between Belarus and Poland; on the Latvian side, since August 10, 2021, 4,045 people have been detained for attempting to cross the border [meanwhile since August 11, 2021, the state of emergency in the border areas has been in effect in the country, which provides for a ban on accepting applications for protection]; since the beginning of August 2021, Lithuanian border guards didn't allow more than 8.1 thousand forced migrants to cross the border. Since the presented statistics are fragmentary, and there are no figures from the Belarusian border services, it is impossible to determine the exact number of transit refugees who ended up on the territory of Belarus and crossed the border with neighboring EU member states, bypassing the established order from the beginning of the crisis in the summer of 2021 to February 2022.

Through the eyes of transit refugees - the results of the survey

Since the beginning of autumn 2021, a large number of foreigners began to appear in the streets and in tourist accommodation facilities (hotels, hostels, inns) of various cities of Belarus, primarily Minsk and Grodno. Between November 2021 and February 2022, we were able to conduct brief surveys and in-depth interviews with transit refugees on the territory of Belarus.
Refugees in Minsk were asked to answer a series of basic questions about their country of origin, reasons for migration, their experience of crossing the border between Belarus and EU countries, as well as about their future plans.

Of the 45 people we interviewed in Minsk, only 22 people came alone, the rest of the respondents came with their families, including underage children. 24 respondents came from Syria and 21 from Iraq. All respondents stated that they arrived in Belarus legally on valid tourist visas by air.

The reasons that aroused them to go on a forced migration are different. The fact that part of the respondents identified themselves as Kurds (9 people) may indicate that the practice of discrimination and persecution of people on the basis of ethnic origin is still ongoing in their countries of citizenship.
Among the main reasons for migration were war and threats from the Islamic State (IS) (29% of respondents), 7 people indicated that they have already been tortured or fear such a threat in the future (15.5% of respondents), another 5 people admitted persecution and threats based on ethnicity (11% of respondents). Six respondents feared unfair criminal prosecution in their home country (13%). Young people in Iraq are afraid of becoming victims of the numerous terrorist attacks that occur from time to time throughout the country.
Syrian men are afraid that both them and their brothers and sons, when they reach military age (from 18 to 42 years old), will become subjects to compulsory military service and participation in the ongoing war. 15 respondents mentioned economic reasons for leaving their home country, but only three of them admitted this as the only and main reason for migration. At the same time, people say that they do not have the opportunity to work in their countries of citizenship, the infrastructure in their hometowns is destroyed, and children do not have access to education. Some of the respondents came with children who have serious diseases that cannot be treated at home - three respondents indicated seeking medical help as a motive for migration. Two cited persecution for belonging to a political organization as the reason for fleeing their country. They also explained their motives as follows: "I am 23 years old and my brothers, when they reach military age, are going to be obliged with military service, we do not want to take part in armed operations in Syria"; "I want to get medical care for my son in Germany."
84% of the surveyed people (38 people) had already tried to cross the border between Belarus and the EU countries by the time of passing the questionnaire. All the interviewed transit refugees tried to cross the border bypassing the established border points and told about the extremely difficult conditions they found themselves in at the border, as well as the brutal actions of both Belarusian and Polish/Lithuanian border guards and law enforcement officials. Some of the respondents told about cases of forced return of migrants by border guards from the territory of Poland to the territory of Belarus, refusals to accept applications for international protection, the use of physical force. Many of the respondents told stories that they managed to cross the border between Belarus and the EU countries, but already on the territory of Poland or Lithuania they were detained by local law enforcement officers, sometimes beaten and their phones and battery chargers were confiscated, they were taken back to the border and forced to return to the territory of Belarus.
In one of the stories, Polish border guards directly negotiated with Belarusian border guards about the return of people to the territory of Belarus, bypassing official procedures. On the Belarusian side, border guards kept transit refugees in the forest for several days without giving them food and water. Many of the respondents say that the Belarusian border guards did not allow them to return to Minsk or another city, directly stating that they could leave the makeshift camp in the forest in only one direction — the direction of the border with the EU countries. There is a lot of evidence of such illegal practices on the part of the border services of all countries involved in the humanitarian crisis. This situation does not allow us to fully trust official statistics and indicates a multitude of violations of the rights of transit refugees both at the local level — the level of ordinary employees of border services or law enforcement agencies - and at the state level.
During the surveys, we also asked people if they were going to apply for international protection immediately after crossing the border or if they had a different goal, whether they were familiar with the EU rules, in particular the rule of the first safe country, whether they wanted to stay in Belarus. 28 people said, they plan to ask for protection in Poland, Lithuania or Latvia. Some said they did not care about a particular country, they just needed a safe place.
10 people replied that they do not plan to apply for asylum in the countries bordering Belarus. As for the possibility of staying in Belarus, the answers to this question differed depending on whether people had already visited the border areas and tried to cross the border with EU countries. Many of those who made several attempts to cross the border and faced refusals by Polish or Lithuanian border guards to accept their applications for international protection began to consider the possibility of applying for asylum in Belarus (12 people, or 27%). At the same time, a number of obstacles were revealed: people do not have information and understanding of how they can be legalized in Belarus, what is the procedure for applying for protection, whether they will be able to get their children to school, whether there are programs for social integration. Some are simply afraid to apply to the migration services, since their Belarusian visa has expired and there is a risk of forcible return to the country of their citizenship. Others have already applied to the local citizenship and migration departments, but they were refused to accept applications for protection and set a deadline during which they are obliged to leave the territory of Belarus.
In an in-depth interview, one person from Syria said that he came through Lebanon, where he received a Belarusian visa. As the reason for the escape, he indicated the threat of life, arrest, forced conscription, war and loss of home. He learned about the possibility of coming from social networks (Facebook, Telegram). He paid $4500 for visa procedures and arrival and ended up in Belarus on October 10, 2021. In 4 months in Belarus, he made 36 attempts to get to Poland or Lithuania. The last attempt to cross the border was made on February 17, 2022 at night near Brest, but he and other migrants were seized by people in uniform (according to the respondents, they were Belarusian border guards), "they sprayed pepper gas in the face, took money and personal belongings, even took clothes and food, beat us. The policeman beat me until I unlocked the phone. He started logging into applications, reading correspondence". After that, they were ordered to return to Minsk, where he sought medical help at the hospital. At the hospital, this person was asked for a contact phone number, a police officer had already contacted the Syrian by it and wanted to meet.
He fears arrest and subsequent expulsion now. He also said that Polish and Lithuanian border guards had previously beaten him and other migrants: "they smashed phones, broke power banks and cut SIM cards, took clothes, shoes and passports, left us in the forest", although they reported that they wanted to apply for international protection.

After the last attempt to cross the border on February 17, 2022, the person changed his mind about applying for protection in Belarus, although he had previously considered such an option. Now he wants to restore his passport and go to any country where a visa is not needed. "Most of all, I am afraid to return to Syria. Either I will be sent to war, where I will have to kill people, and I don't want to kill people. Or prison and torture are waiting for me because I tried to escape, that I am a "traitor" to the motherland".
The survey results allowed us to draw a number of conclusions:
Despite the artificiality of the created humanitarian crisis, since the beginning of the summer of 2021, mostly forced migrants have arrived in Belarus, fleeing war, torture or persecuted on the basis of their ethnic origin;
People are poorly informed and do not understand the legal norms and established procedures, their rights and obligations, which, on the one hand, contributes to the violation of laws by migrants themselves, and on the other hand, hinders the effective protection of migrants' rights;
Violations of the right to apply for international protection were systemic, both on the part of Belarusian border guards, and on the part of Polish, Lithuanian and Latvian border guards;
The right to apply for international protection was also violated by the migration services of Belarus, the practice of forc ed or fraudulent return of transit refugees from Belarus to their country of citizenship was used.
Overview of the human rights situation in the countries of origin of transit refugees
Despite the direct participation of the Belarusian authorities in organizing the flow of forced migrants from third countries through Belarus to the EU border, it should be noted that there are also objective reasons (push-factors) for which people decided to leave their home countries. In general, in recent years, against the background of an increasing number of military conflicts, environmental, economic and political problems, migration flows have grown rapidly around the world. In the media covering this topic, there is often no complete statistical and factual information about migration processes, individual groups and people forced to leave their country of birth, but some negative examples are shown. We identified 6 countries (Syria, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Congo) from which more people arrived during the humanitarian crisis at the border, and tried to describe the human rights situation in these countries and the reasons why people could end up on the border between Belarus and the EU. Moreover, understanding the driving forces of migration is the key to classifying migrants as refugees or voluntary economic migrants and, accordingly, influences the decision on whether a person will be granted international protection under the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees.
Officially, the war in Syria began in 2011 and still has the status of ongoing. The conflict in Syria is characterized by the active participation of several opposing forces, and therefore no civilian, no matter what nationality he belongs to, no matter what political or religious views he adheres to, can feel safe in his or her home.

Thus, according to Amnesty International for 2020, the Syrian-Russian military alliance with the participation of the Syrian government continues to commit war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including indiscriminate and direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects. Between April and September 2020, at least 51 medical institutions and 59 schools were damaged as a result of the fighting in Idlib, Hama and the northern part of Aleppo. Human Rights Watch reports that Turkey and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army have also been indiscriminately shelling civilian targets and systematically looting private property, and have carried out hundreds of arrests and at least seven summary executions in the areas they occupied in northeast Syria. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces military alliance also operates in northern Syria, arbitrarily detained at least eight activists on suspicion of ISIS connection in areas under its control and refus es to inform their families of their whereabouts. In addition to these actors, for many years the Islamic State (an organization recognized as terrorist in many countries) has been carrying out kidnappings with impunity, including journalists, activists, medical workers and human rights defenders, whose fate remains unknown to this day.

In such conditions, civilians are forced to fear daily for their lives and the lives of their relatives in connection with a direct armed threat. At the same time, during the war, enormous damage was done to the economy and infrastructure of Syria, which significantly worsened the financial situation of the population and in many cases threw people over the poverty line. In the period from 2010 to 2018 . Syria lost 943 thousand hectares of cultivated land due to military operations, forced displacement of farmers and agricultural workers, irrational use of state resources and costs associated with the armed conflict. According to surveys and UN data, families have reduced the number of meals, and parents are starving to feed their children. Residents also reported discrimination in food distribution. In some areas, there are separate queues for military and security personnel, and the permanent population and displaced persons are not given priority attention. According to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry into the Events in Syria (COI), civilians are still unable to return to their homes in Qaboun, Jaubar, Yarmouk camp and some areas of Daraya. The Syrian Government uses Decree 66 of 2012 and its expanded anti-terrorism law to confiscate the property of opposition individuals and their families without due process of law and due compensation.

In addition to the above, according to human rights organizations, people are constantly at risk of becoming victims of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment throughout the country, extrajudicial executions, rape and other forms of sexual violence. In Syria, the death penalty is also practiced for many crimes.
At the end of 2019, nationwide protests began in Iraq, calling for the resolution of problems with employment, poor-quality provision of public services, corruption in the government, and subsequently for bringing of those responsible for the use of force by law enforcement officers, including murders and enforced disappearances of protesters to justice.
The crackdown on mostly peaceful protests was accompanied by the blocking of the Internet, excessive use of force: during two months of protests in 2019 in Baghdad and southern cities of Iraq, at least 350 protesters were killed. Arbitrary detentions took place, as a result of which people went missing. Law enforcement officers used force against doctors who provided assistance to the protesters.
There are cases of enforced disappearance of protesters, journalists, and oppositionists. The persons were detained without any connection with the outside world for 5 months, some of them subsequently reported torture or other ill-treatment. Individuals were sentenced to 6 years in prison on the basis of confessions obtained under pressure.
The population of Iraq suffers not only from the renewed attacks of ISIS in 2020, but also from the actions of its own authorities against victims of attacks and persons suspected of having connection with terrorists (often in the absence of direct evidence of such a connection: based on surname, ethnicity or region of origin). For example, at least 30000 Iraqi refugees who left the country in 2014-2017 were returned to Iraq in 2019 and placed in closed camps due to alleged connection with ISIS. Moreover, in Iraq (including Kurdistan), the practice of charging children with cooperation with a terrorist organization continues on grounds that are often not verifiable. The HRW report from 2019 provides data on the criminal prosecution and imprisonment of children based on confessions obtained through the use of torture, including beatings, electric shock. According to UNICEF, as of April 2021, 1159 Iraqi children (some of them as young as nine years old) were detained on charges related to national security, including for their actual or alleged connection with armed groups, primarily ISIS. Most of the children were charged and were sentenced to imprisonment for a term of 5 to 15 years.
The death penalty is also practiced in Iraq: courts regularly pass sentences with capital punishment as a sanction; at least 50 such sentences are known to be executed in 2020.
According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, 1659 civilians were killed and 3524 were wounded within the first 6 months of 2021 which is 47% more than in 2020. Armed groups were collectively responsible for the deliberate targeting and killing of civilians, including teachers, health workers, humanitarian workers, judges, tribal and religious leaders, and state employees.

Pro-government militias and local police regularly recruit children for combat. Children also lacked adequate opportunities to pursue their right to quality education. According to UNICEF, over 2 million girls remained out of school, and according to government figures about 7,000 schools in the country had no building. Large numbers of children are pressed into begging on the streets.

Women and girls face gender-based discrimination throughout Afghanistan.Violence against women and girls remained chronically under-reported, with women often fearing reprisals and lacking confidence in the authorities. In September 2020, human rights organizations called for a total ban on so-called virginity tests which are a routine part of criminal proceedings in Afghanistan. The Afghan penal code requires a court order and the consent of the woman for the test. However, such requirements are often ignored. Police are particularly reluctant to arrest husbands accused of domestic violence. Although conviction rates for murdering women have risen, this is not the case for so-called "honor killings", when women and girls are killed by family members. Particularly in rural areas, judicial authorities often condone them.

Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and EU countries continued to forcibly return migrants and asylum-seekers to Afghanistan. The Iranian authorities forcibly returned nearly 700,000 people between 1 January and 31 October in 2020. Iranian border forces were also responsible for attacks on Afghan migrants, including cases of torture and drowning in May and an arson attack on a vehicle carrying migrants in June 2020. The attacks were not investigated, and no action was taken against the perpetrators. According to the International Organization for Migration, internally displaced people live in densely populated camps and face difficulties accessing clean water, health care and employment. Their situation deteriorated further as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social controls embodied in "morality" officials - known as "vice and virtue" police - continue to operate in districts under Taliban control. These officials patrol communities to monitor residents' adherence to Taliban-prescribed social codes regarding dress and public deportment, beard length, men's attendance at Friday prayers, and use of smartphones or other technological devices. The rigidity or flexibility with which the Taliban impose these rules varies by province and district, with Kunduz among the most flexible and Helmand among the least. Violating the rules can result in a warning for a first-time or relatively minor offense. For offenses deemed more serious, Taliban officials have imprisoned residents and inflicted corporal punishments such as beatings.
Iran keeps reporting the cases of systematic use of torture and other kinds of ill-treatment. The Penal Code of Iran continued to provide for corporal judicial punishments amounting to torture, including flogging, blinding, amputation, crucifixion and stoning. Iran is also one of the leading implementers of the death penalty. Iran had executed at least 233 people as of November 2020. Iranian law considers acts such as "insulting the prophet," "apostasy," same-sex relations, adultery, drinking alcohol, and certain non-violent drug-related offences as crimes punishable by death.

A disproportionate number of those executed were members of Kurdish and Baluchi minorities. According to Human Rights Watch, only in January and February 2021 96 individuals from Iran's Kurdish minority, including civil society activists, labor rights activists, environmentalists, writers, university students and political activists as well as individuals with no known history of activism, have been arrested. The detainees have been denied their rights to access legal counsel and to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. According to Kurdish human rights groups, in 2020, over 500 people from Iran's Kurdish minority, including human rights defenders, were arrested for politically motivated reasons and charged with broad and vaguely worded national security-related offenses. At least 159 of them were subsequently sentenced to prison terms ranging from one month to 17 years and four received the death penalty. Most recently, on 19 December 2021, Mr. Heidar Ghorbani, a Kurdish prisoner, was executed in secret. His execution took place without prior notice to his family and lawyer, and his body was secretly buried by prison authorities.

Discrimination is also widespread in relation to the children from ethnic minorities as they are almost completely deprived of the education in their native language.
The Turkish government regularly misuses national anti-terrorism legislation to silence human rights activists and journalists, stop minorities from defending their interests and intimidate dissent. As for 2020, an estimated 87 journalists and media workers were in pretrial detention or serving sentences for terrorism offenses because of their journalistic work. Students, cultural figures and members of social movements become accused of committing criminal offenses under anti-terrorism articles because of posts on social networks. In July 2020, Ministry of Justice and Interior figures stated that 58409 were on trial and 132954 still under criminal investigation on terrorism.

In South-East Turkey where the majority of the population is Kurdish the national human rights mechanisms virtually don't work since July 2015. The resumed confrontation between Kurdistan's Workers Party (KWP) and the Turkish government resulted in multiple human rights violations such as unlawful killings, kidnapping, torture, destruction of homes and cultural heritage sites, incitement of hatred, restriction of access to emergency medical care, water, food and other vital sources, and gender violence. In addition, this has led to severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of speech and expression, as well as participation in public life. However, the regional prosecutor's office refused to investigate these crimes.

The exact number of prisoners accused of alleged cooperation with the KWP or already convicted on this charge is unknown, but there are at least 8500 of them. It is known that torture and ill-treatment are widely used against those suspected of having connection with the KWP. In September 2020, reports about the detention of two farmers by Turkish gendarmerie officers as part of an anti-terrorist operation against the KWP appeared in the media. During the two days they were in custody, they were tortured and then thrown out of a helicopter. At the request of the prosecutor's office, the court imposed a ban on the dissemination of this news. And in November 2020, the Interior Minister said that these farmers were helping KWP terrorists.

Kurds also face discrimination based on language and ethnicity when receiving government and social services. The Constitution of the country establishes a ban on teaching any languages, except Turkish, as a native language, in any educational institutions. The law also restricts the use of other languages in the activities of the Government and the State.
The Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been in a complex political crisis for several decades, which negatively affects the security of its citizens and hinders the economic development of the country.

Armed conflicts are still going on all over the country, especially in the provinces of Ituri, Kasai and Kivu, where more than 100 military groups operate. Between May and September 2021, at least 739 civilians were killed in these conflicts. Due to the ongoing armed conflict, people are forced to leave their homes: 5.5 million people are considered internally displaced persons. This is the largest number among all African countries.

Human rights are systematically violated. From January to October 2021, almost 50,000 cases of human rights violations were registered. In addition, 74000 cases of sexual and gender-based violence are reported. The administration of the current president Felix Chiskedi, who came to power in 2019, pursues those who disagree with the actions of the government. In 2020, Human Rights Watch recorded at least 109 cases where journalists and political activists were subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions, received threats and became victims of intimidation.

Due to the ongoing armed conflict and political contradictions, the country is less resistant to natural disasters, which also regularly occur in the Congo. These difficulties, together with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, aggravate the economic situation in the country. At the moment, 27 million Congolese citizens are experiencing acute food shortages, which is the highest rate among all countries in the world.

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The current humanitarian crisis will not be resolved by itself with the arrival of winter or with the intensification of sanctions pressure on Belarus, so the parties should take active actions to resolve this situation.

Thus, we call on the Government of the Republic of Belarus and the Governments of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia:
- to fully ensure respect for human rights, the rights of migrants and refugees;
- to abandon the practice of using transit refugees in vulnerable situations as an instrument of political pressure;
- to ensure access of international organizations and NGOs to transit refugees in need of humanitarian, medical and legal assistance in border zones;
- to abandon the practice of unlawful refusals to accept applications for international protection and the forcible return of transit refugees to the territory of Belarus;
- to organize a humanitarian corridor for transit refugees currently on the territory of Belarus to ensure the safe exercise of their right to apply for international protection and prevent further irregular border crossings;
- do not consider Belarus the first safe country for these people;
- by providing financial assistance to solve this crisis to entities located in Belarus, make sure that the funds will not be received by the Belarusian authorities and will be used in accordance with the stated purpose;
- to demand greater publicity and transparency in the activities of the IOM and UNHCR representative offices in Belarus;
- to ensure international and/or civil monitoring of human rights compliance in the implementation of the return to the countries of citizenship;
- to ensure the most complete collection of statistical information on transit refugees and migrants inside the country and attempts to cross the border and provide this information to the public.

We also want to draw attention to the importance of parallel and coordinated actions of international organizations and civil society organizations.