LTV's De Facto investigates 'disappearance' of migrants from Latvia-Belarus border

A group of migrants was allegedly taken away from the Latvian-Belarusian borderline by Latvian authorities last week and dropped off in the territory of Belarus later, according to Latvian Television's investigative broadcast De Facto, which aired August 29.

At the beginning of the final full week of August, 83 people were camping on the Latvian–Belarusian border, according to information from the refugee aid organization Gribu palīdzēt bēgļiem. The association supplied them with food.

“These people were split in four different groups. Of the 83 people, 27 had children, four of whom under 3 years old,” said the association's spokesman, Egils Grasmanis.

On Tuesday, the Border Guard told the association that food was no longer needed because there was no one on the border. The organization's contact with the largest group was disrupted.  The disappearance of migrants from the border lane coincided with the arrival of the UN Refugee Committee in Latvia to see the situation. UN representatives did not meet migrants on the border, the Ministry of Interior told De Facto.

The responsible authorities did not provide public information on these changes at the border, whereas over the weekend, Belarusian border guard published a video showing that Latvian armed forces and border guards are forcing migrants to travel deeper into the territory of Latvia and into another section of the border area. However, according to the Border Guard and Interior Ministry, there were no detained migrants in the territory of Latvia this week, which means the group was likely ushered back into the territory of Belarus.

“These persons were not admitted to the territory of Latvia, according to the regulation of the Cabinet. These people are apparently in the territory of the Republic of Belarus, where we do not control their movements,” Interior Minister Marija Golubeva (Development/For!) told the broadcast, without mentioning how the migrants had left the border.

One of the migrants had allegedly recorded a conversation with a person who claimed to be an official of the Latvian Migration Service shortly before the group left the border zone, urging the group to come further into the territory of Latvia to check their identity and to provide them with food, water, and medical care.

The Minister for the Interior, Golubeva, said that she had no information on such practices.

“25 persons were detained and placed in a detention center throughout this period [since the announcement of the emergency] for humanitarian reasons. It doesn't give them the right to apply for asylum, they are detained so that they don't die. But there have been no cases of a person being interviewed and then returned to Belarus. At least I don't know anything, and it wouldn't be legitimate,” the minister said.

The State Border Guard did not respond to the question whether it was the voice of a border guard that was heard in the recording and whether the migrants went with him, but the Guard explained that “only the minimum necessary measures were taken to ensure the tasks for returning persons”.

“The emergency regulation allows the use of physical force and special means to ensure the return of illegally traveling persons to the country of origin, but in cases determined so far, the State Border Guard has not applied any special means or force techniques to ensure the implementation of the tasks specified in the order. People are invited to refrain from crossing the country's border illegally, as well as being escorted to a safe place where they can return to the Republic of Belarus,” said the Border Guard spokeswoman Kristīne Pētersone.

In accordance with the decision of the Saeima and the Cabinet, the Latvian Border Guard does not allow migrants to request asylum in Latvia. Since 10 August, 749 illegal attempts to cross the border have been prevented.

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