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10 December 2021 – Belarus

Inside the Bruzgi Logistics Centre, (Ruptly,
Inside the Bruzgi Logistics Centre, (Ruptly, "Belarus: Stranded Migrants Flock to Collect Aid at Bruzgi Logistics Centre," Youtube,

The humanitarian crisis that unfolded–and continues to unfold–on Belarus’s borders with the European Union (EU) in late 2021 sparked widespread scrutiny of that country’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers (see the 12 November 2021 update on Belarus on this platform). However, the EU has long seen Belarus as an important partner in its efforts to halt the movements of migrants before they reach the EU.

As noted in a recent report by The Transnational Institute (TNI), the European Commission announced in 2016 that it would provide “€7 million from the European Neighbourhood Instrument for ‘the construction and/or renovation of several temporary migrants’ accommodation centres’ for ‘between 30 and 50 irregular migrants per centre at a time,’ where ‘all centres will have closed and open-type facilities.’ The Action Programme includes training on the management of these centres.” The International Organization for Migration (IOM) was reportedly tasked with helping implement the project.

Importantly, aside from some holding cells in border facilities, Belarus has to date only used prisons and police stations for migration-related detention purposes, having never established the types of specialized migrant facilities used in nearly all other European countries, particularly those that are members of the Council of Europe (of which Belarus is not).

A non-governmental source in Belarus informed the Global Detention Project (GDP) that in 2018, Belarus began building two migrant centres with EU support, which are reportedly intended to hold up to 200 people each and be located in Lida and Navapolatsk. However, according to the GDP source, progress on these facilities was halted shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, in mid-2020.

According to TNI, the EU has also supported numerous other detention-related projects. One such project, called “Helping Belarus Address the Phenomenon of Increasing Numbers of Irregular Migrants,” reportedly includes financing renovations of prisons in Belarus and includes the involvement of UNHCR and the Belarus Red Cross. Also, “As part of an earlier EU-funded project ‘Strengthening surveillance capacity on the green and blue border between Belarus and Ukraine’ (SURCAP, 2012–2014), also implemented by the IOM, border guards from Belarus and Ukraine went on study visits to detention centres in Italy and Portugal. In February 2018, the IOM also organised a study visit to detention centres in Albania and Macedonia for Belarusian border guards, once again funded by the EU.”

The GDP source in Belarus reported that there is no available information indicating that migrants are currently being detained in the country, adding that many are receiving accommodation in a non-secure “logistical” centre in Bruzgi. However, the source added that this situation could change as many people may now have expired visas.

Images filmed by Ruptly, a video news agency owned by the Moscow-backed RT television network (formerly Russia Today), appear to show migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in a warehouse-like facility. Children and families are seen sleeping on the floor of the facility in between scaffolding. On 16 November 2021, a Belarusian presidential aide was quoted as saying that “all migrants will be able to stay at the centre until the issue is resolved.”

On 9 December 2021, Polish soldiers found the body of a migrant in the border region with Belarus. Around a dozen people have now been found dead along the border as aid groups warn that the toll could be even higher. Polish border guards said that on 8 December 2021, a group of 35 migrants had forced their way across the Polish border overnight and that the Belarusian military had helped them cross. The group was caught by Polish authorities and sent back to Belarus. According to the Polish government, it is estimated that the Lukashenko regime has sent back around 3,000 migrants to Iraq and Syria but there remain around 7,000 on the Belarusian territory.

While observers have been critical of the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers by Polish and Lithuanian security services during the border crisis with Belarus, which Belarus and Russia have also loudly denounced, there are long-standing concerns about how Belarus treats migrants crossing into its territory from Russia. According to TNI, a report by the group Danwatch “exposed the inhumane treatment of migrants by the Belarusian border authorities, including pushbacks of Chechen refugees to Russia and extremely violent treatment of perceived irregular migrants by armed border guards.”

UNHCR data shows that in 2020, there were 2,900 refugees, 136 asylum seekers, and 6,297 stateless persons in Belarus. In addition, data shows that around 600 asylum applications were submitted in Belarus in 2020.