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UN rights chief seeks de-escalation of crisis on Poland-Belarus border

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By Reuters
UN rights chief seeks de-escalation of crisis on Poland-Belarus border
UN rights chief seeks de-escalation of crisis on Poland-Belarus border   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

GENEVA – United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on states on Wednesday to resolve the “intolerable” migrant crisis on the Belarus-Poland border and said that under international law people should not be prevented from seeking asylum.

Migrants trapped in Belarus made multiple attempts to force their way into Poland overnight, Warsaw said on Wednesday, announcing that it had reinforced the border as the European Union prepares to impose sanctions on Belarus over the crisis.

Moscow sent a further signal of support for its ally Belarus by dispatching two strategic bomber planes to patrol Belarusian airspace.

“I urge the states involved to take immediate steps to de-escalate and resolve this intolerable situation in line with their obligations under international human rights law and refugee law,” Bachelet said in a statement.

Actions by both sides “including through the increased deployment of troops – and accompanying inflammatory rhetoric” exacerbate the vulnerability and risks that migrants and refugees face, she said.

Bachelet called for immediate access for aid workers, lawyers and journalists to those stranded.

“These hundreds of men, women and children must not be forced to spend another night in freezing weather without adequate shelter, food, water and medical care,” she said.

“Under international law, no one should ever be prevented from seeking protection, and individual consideration must be given to their protection needs.”

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR has also expressed concern about hundreds of migrants camped out near the Belarus border with Poland and called for an end to vulnerable people being used as political pawns.

The European Union accuses Belarus of encouraging the migrants – from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa – to try to illegally cross the frontier in revenge for earlier sanctions imposed on Minsk over human rights abuses.