Europe

The Red Cross is supporting people who have fled their homes along the Belarus-Poland border, and in neighbouring countries.

Humanitarian crisis on the Polish-Belarus border

We are concerned about the increasingly serious situation on the Polish-Belarus border.

  • Thousands of people have now crossed from Belarus to Lithuania, Poland and neighbouring countries.
  • On 8 November, a large group of migrants attempted to cross the Polish border, and there is now an estimated 4,000 people living in makeshift camps along the Polish-Belarus border.
  • At least 10 people are thought to have died in freezing conditions. People also need food, medicine, clothing, protective equipment against COVID-19 and access to essential services.
  • The British Red Cross is calling for access so that humanitarian organisations can provide vital assistance.
The Red Cross helps refugees stranded in a forest in the Poland-Belarus border.

The Red Cross is providing people with life-saving assistance along the Belarus-Poland border, including food, water and blankets. 

The government is overhauling the asylum system. And as they do, we urge them to create a fairer and more effective approach to how we treat people seeking refuge in the UK.

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Arrow icon How is the Red Cross helping?

Arrow icon Calling for safe access

Calling for safe access to vulnerable people

We're calling for all humanitarian organisations to be granted unconditional and safe access to all people in need, irrespective of their legal status, including in detention, at borders and in camps.

With support from the IFRC, National Red Cross Societies should be able to deliver critical assistance and protection to those in need – in accordance with the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence without putting people in danger.


How is the Red Cross helping?

There are currently 600 Red Cross staff and volunteers helping people in Belarus, Lithuania and Poland, but we're trying to do more.

The Lithuanian Red Cross is responding with 400 volunteers and 30 staff who are regularly visiting border checkpoints and reception centres to monitor conditions and provide humanitarian aid.

In the five large reception centres to which migrants from the border camps were transferred, volunteers provide food and other humanitarian aid, help with registration services and psychological support while assessing other needs and organising activities for children and adults.

They are also offering legal assistance, orientation sessions and individual consultations to those in need, using interpreters to share information to people in their native languages.

In addition, staff and volunteers are helping people to reconnect with their loved ones by providing mobile phones, SIM cards and Restoring Family Links (RFL) services.

From mid November, the Lithuanian Red Cross started to give relief items/humanitarian kits to the authorities so that they could distribute them to people trying to enter/entering the emergency zone, whether they are staying in Lithuania or not.

The Belarus Red Cross is coordinating with the state and other international partners, including the UNHCR, to provide humanitarian aid at the border. 

Under a joint project with the UNHCR, the Belarus Red Cross is letting people know how they might return to their home countries if they wish to and the process for obtaining refugee status in Belarus. 

Red Cross teams deliver food, hygiene products, water, nappies, warm clothes and shoes, blankets and other necessary items to people at the border. The Belarus Red Cross also organised a fundraising campaign to collect warm clothes and hygiene items, food and water to give to migrants.

The Polish Red Cross has helped migrants close to the border with Belarus, providing blankets, sleeping bags, clothes for adults and items for children.

They are delivering relief goods to retention and detention centres while providing tracing services for those searching their families. Local branches are supporting migrants in Podlaskie and Lubelskie provinces, near the border, with food, water and hygiene kits.

The Polish Red Cross, along with another non-profit organisation, has opened a Humanitarian Service Point in Michalowo city, in Podlaskie Province near the border with Belarus. From here they will provide people with packages containing warm clothes, shoes, blankets and hygiene items on a 24-hour basis.

The Estonian Red Cross is coordinating with authorities, ready to assist if the need arises.

The Latvian Red Cross is coordinating with authorities and other aid organisations, and can support potential asylum seekers on administrative and legal procedures, as well as integration.

Over the last decade

The British Red Cross has been proud to work with our partners in Bosnia, Greece, Ukraine and the UK over the last decade, to support refugees and some cases, survivors of trafficking.

Over the past decade, more people have been forced to flee their homes than at any time since World War Two. Figures from 2018 showed that over 107,000 people fled to Europe by sea.

Even now, some people have few other options and travel to Europe on poor quality, overcrowded vessels at risk of sinking.

Those who arrived in Europe ended up in many different countries and needed support to settle into their new communities. Many decided to flee to Europe because of conflict or natural disaster in their home countries. 

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Bosnia: hot food and essential supplies for migrants

Between 2019 - 2021, Red Cross teams in Bosnia and Herzegovina helped around 4,000 migrants in the reception centres every day. This included meals, hygiene items such as soap, clothes and first aid.

Many people had travelled through Bosnia and Herzegovina to seek asylum in EU countries. Only half of refugees in stayed in the six temporary reception centres available in Europe. The rest were forced to sleep rough. Many walked for weeks, including children and pregnant women, arriving hungry and exhausted.

To support people through Bosnia’s harsh winter, the Red Cross also provided tents and sleeping bags in one of the camps, in the town of Vucjak.

Seven of our mobile teams helped 41,000 people sleeping rough with food parcels, hygiene parcels, blankets, clothes and sleeping bags. Specialist psychological support volunteers also offered emotional support.

The migrants’ arrival put pressure on local services in areas that were already poor. To help, we gave cash grants to local families. People used the money to buy supplies they needed or to started or supported their own small businesses.


Support for survivors of trafficking and other vulnerable migrants

The British Red Cross supported partner Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations in Europe to help people who arrived in their countries. This included people who were trafficked or who were at risk of trafficking. We also supported refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

The British Red Cross and the Turkish Red Crescent helped 36 staff from 15 Red Cross organisations learn to recognise and act on human trafficking. The training was carried out between 3 to the 6 July 2018 in Angkor through an event to train trainers, who then passed the skills on to staff and volunteers in their home countries.

Together with others in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, we also launched a toolkit for trainers. Staff in any National Society used it to help their teams identify and support people who have been trafficked.

In addition, the British Red Cross launched a new trafficking response resource hub in March 2019. Sharing resources, good practice advice and tools, it supported Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations’ anti-trafficking work across Europe and worldwide.


Greece: vital support to refugees

During the height of the crisis between 2015 and 2019, we helped our partners keep children safe, provide clean water and give important information to refugees in Greece.

The British Red Cross also gave cash grants to refugees, so they can buy the essentials – food, shelter and warm clothes for winter.

  • More than 1.6 million food items and other supplies such as blankets and soap were distributed.
  • We helped people to learn how to stay healthy in difficult conditions.
  • We supported the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to run a centre in northern Greece. It provided thousands of refugees and asylum seekers with information, casework and cash grants.

Ukraine: cash grants helped people start small businesses

Ongoing conflict in Ukraine meant that people in some areas faced problems in earning a living. Some had to flee their homes, some were unemployed former servicemen and others were local people whose jobs or businesses ended or closed because of conflict.   

To help people support themselves and their families, the British Red Cross worked with the Ukraine Red Cross to give people cash grants to start small businesses. We helped support 164 households in 2017 and then another 170 in 2018. 

People got grants of up to £750 to start and expand their businesses. Food and other essential supplies were provided to families to tide them over while their businesses were being built up.

The businesses are now well underway and nearly 90 per cent of them are making a profit. Businesses include livestock farming, sewing, hairdressing, baking and handyman work.

Once the grants had been used to start the businesses, people shared what they had done at roundtable events in their communities. By sharing their business plans and ideas, they helped other people who wanted to set up their own businesses, as well as the local authorities. 


The UK: how we're helping

In 2017, British Red Cross services reached more than 30,000 people in 58 towns and cities across the country. This made us the largest provider of this kind of support in the UK.

And although we're no longer helping in Europe, we're proud to be helping refugees in the UK. If you have been separated from your relatives, we can help you find your missing family members. We also speak out about important issues facing refugees and asylum seekers. 

Contact us for more information

Internationalcontact@redcross.org.uk