TRAPPED IN A LAWLESS ZONE: HUMANITARIAN CRISIS AT THE LATVIA-BELARUS BORDER
Author: Dr Aleksandra Jolkina 
Preliminary findings

ABOUT THE STUDY 

On 10 August 2021, in response to the rising numbers of asylum-seekers trying to irregularly cross into Latvia from Belarus, Latvia declared a state of emergency on its border with Belarus. In the country’s media and political discourse, the issue has been widely framed as a security threat and a ‘hybrid attack’ orchestrated by the Belarusian regime. 

In contrast to Poland or Lithuania, there have been no local NGOs, media or academics systematically documenting the events at the Latvia’s border with Belarus or providing a comprehensive analysis of the issue from the perspective of Latvia’s compliance with EU or international law. So far, the current situation in Latvia in the field of asylum and migration has been largely neglected by EU institutions and international organisations – despite the evidence of serious violations of EU and international law by the Latvian authorities. 

The present study aims to contribute to filling this gap. By adopting an interdisciplinary approach, it aims, first, to critically examine the compatibility of emergency measures adopted by the Latvian government with EU and international law and, second, to explore the practical implications of such measures for the individuals concerned. 

As part of this research, the author has conducted in-depth interviews with over 25 individuals who crossed the Latvian border with Belarus after the introduction of the state of emergency, spent several weeks or months at the border and ultimately returned from Latvia to their countries of origin. The present report represents preliminary findings of an ongoing investigation into the issue and is largely based on their testimonies.

Given the urgency of the matter and the absence of other reports systematically documenting the events at the Latvia-Belarus border, the present research is being conducted on an entirely voluntary basis. The author has received no funding for the research, authorship and publication of this report. The author would like to offer her warmest thanks to her interviewees who agreed to share their stories. This research would not have been possible without the help of Germany-based journalist Toms Ancītis who has contributed to it on an unpaid basis.

What lies behind these figures are largely the same people who were subjected to daily pushbacks'Every night they used to be transported to a tent and then pushed back into Belarus the following morning'

‘I had to translate for everyone they were going to kill us’

‘They hit me with electroshock over 20 times and dunked my head in dirty water’

‘They threatened to take us back to the forest if we refused to go back to Iraq'I will never forget what Latvia did to us. Latvian commandos treated us worse than Daesh'