Regarding information on the media about situation on Latvian-Belorussian border

Mass-media has published information and non-governmental organizations have also confirmed to the Ombudsman that currently a situation has developed at the Latvian-Belarusian border where about 30 adults and 11 children are in the open air in uninhabited areas without the possibility to enter Latvia or return to Belarus. These persons are denied entry to Latvia by the Latvian border guards due to the declared emergency situation in the region, while on the other hand, the Belarusian border guards prohibit them from leaving the border area. Special measures, such as electroshock devices, are also reported to have been used against some of these individuals.

On 10 August, the government adopted an order “Regarding the Declaration of Emergency Situation”, which stipulates that the State Border Guard and other authorized institutions prevent persons from crossing the border illegally, as well as return those who have crossed the border illegally, having the right to use physical force and special means in this process.

In this situation, it is important to remember that at least some of these people may be potential asylum seekers. As the Ombudsman pointed out in a letter to the Saeima and the Cabinet of Ministers, in accordance with Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 to the European Convention on Human Rights, collective forced return of foreigners is prohibited. Even in case of an emergency situation where public authorities carry out ‘exclusion’ of persons from the border, in the case of potential asylum seekers there must be legal and effective alternatives to apply for asylum. In a situation where a person is in fact denied the opportunity to move, it can be concluded that they have no other available alternatives, so an exception to the general procedure established by the order should be allowed.

In the opinion of the Ombudsman, the longer such a situation continues, the more serious consequences it may have for the health of these persons. This especially applies to children in such situation. Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children. The Ombudsman therefore calls on the responsible national authorities to do their utmost to put an immediate end to the current situation, if it is as reflected in the media, providing people in the border area with dignified conditions, including weather-appropriate shelter, clothing, food, and water referring individually to the situation of each person illegally crossing the border.