Belarusian human rights defenders obtained ECtHR interim measures and saved refugees on the Latvian border
Monday,, January 16, 2023
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The request was submitted by Respect-Protect-Fulfill and the Latvian organisation Gribu palīdzēt bēgļiem (I Want to Help Refugees). Interim measures were granted, but the Latvian authorities initiated criminal prosecution against our Latvian colleagues.

In January, representatives of Gribu palīdzēt bēgļiem were contacted by a group of forced migrants from Syria who had spent about a month at the border between Latvia and Belarus. Latvian security forces refused to accept their asylum applications and forcibly returned them to Belarus, while Belarusian security forces did not allow them to leave the border area, in turn forcing them to return to Latvia. This sequence of events had happened to the migrants since the beginning of December. Consequently, they were forced to live in the open air.

On 11 January 2023, Respect-Protect-Fulfill and Gribu palīdzēt bēgļiem applied to the European Court of Human Rights with a request to oblige Latvia not to expel migrants to Belarus and to provide them with humanitarian aid.

The Court granted the request and instructed Latvia to provide them with food, water, clothing, adequate medical assistance, and temporary housing. Having the ECtHR's decision on hand, on the night of 12 January to 13, the Gribu palīdzēt bēgļiem representatives (Ieva Raubisko and Egils Grasmanis) went to the Latvia-Belarus border region to save the people. When they found 5 out of the 7 applicants in the forest, they were in very poor condition. The activists immediately called an ambulance and contacted the State Border Guard. As a result, 2 of the found applicants received urgent medical treatment, and all 5 remained in Latvia. It is unknown what happened to the other 2 applicants, whom Ieva and Egils could not find in the forest.

The Latvian State Border Guard initiated criminal proceedings against the Latvian activists, Ieva Raubiško and Egils Grasmanis, for moving persons across the border.

Nikita Matyushchenkov, head of Respect-Protect-Fulfill, co-representative of the applicants in the ECtHR case, comments:

"We managed to obtain interim measures from the ECtHR and to enforce the decision specifically in this case. However, dozens more people are in the same situation at the border now. Since the declaration of a state of emergency at the Latvia-Belarus border in August 2021, both Belarusian and Latvian security forces have been retaining forced migrants in the border area. Latvian security forces do not accept their requests for asylum and expel them to Belarus, while Belarusian security forces do not let them leave the border area and force them to cross the Belarusian border with Latvia in an irregular manner. Together with our colleagues from Latvia, we seek to ensure that migrants are not subjected to torture and inhuman treatment.

We condemn the persecution of Ieva Raubisko and Egils Grasmanis for their peaceful human rights work. Our colleagues went to the border zone with an ECtHR decision on hand and saved people from possible hypothermia death. Latvia initiated criminal proceedings against our colleagues for the illegal movement of persons across the border, for which there is no basis. The actions of the Latvian authorities, who do not accept asylum requests from people in need of protection and leave them in danger in the cold forest, are illegal. Over the past 30 days, such ill-treatment at the Latvian border has already resulted in the death of at least 2 migrants from hypothermia".

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