U.N. agencies are calling for an investigation into the deaths of four people whose bodies were found over the weekend near the border between Poland and Belarus.

Three of the dead found on the Polish side of the border have been identified by Polish authorities as Iraqi men. The fourth person was identified by Belarusian authorities as an Iraqi woman, who they say they found within a meter of the border.

Spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Safa Msehli, told VOA these are the first recorded deaths of groups of asylum-seekers and migrants who have been transiting through Belarus to seek asylum in Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.

She said two of the dead reportedly died of hypothermia. She noted many migrants arriving in the European Union border states are exposed to the elements and suffer from hypothermia because they lack protection from the cold weather. 

She also said both IOM and the U.N. refugee agency are concerned by reports of pushbacks in these European border states.

“Asylum-seekers and migrants should not be used by states for political ends,” Msehli said. “Pushback is against states’ obligations under international law and states need to work collaboratively to resolve this situation right now and need to prioritize human rights.”

There has been a surge of migrants and asylum-seekers in recent months, with thousands heading for Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. They reportedly come from West Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

According to media reports, the EU border states have been pushing back against what they see as a deliberate policy by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to destabilize their economies by falsely telling migrants they can legally enter the EU through his country.

Msheli said people have been using dangerous, irregular routes to reach the EU. She added that many have become stranded for weeks, without any assistance or basic services. They have been living under dire conditions, without any shelter, exposed to the elements and suffering from hypothermia. 

“We are calling for immediate access to all of those affected in order to, first of all, provide lifesaving medical assistance, food and water. But also, any protection needs that need to be covered,” Msheli said. “It is difficult for us to understand what is happening exactly on the ground. This needs the authorities on both sides to investigate the situation.”

The IOM and the UNHCR are calling for an immediate investigation into the deaths of the four migrants. They also are urging relevant authorities to explore various options to create safe pathways for migration and avoid similar tragedies from happening.

These, they suggest, could involve access to asylum and family reunification procedures, as well as voluntary return for those who are not in need of international protection.

 

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