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Belarusia Steps Up Crackdown on Opponents

Belarus

Belarus regime has stepped up its crackdown against rights organisations, social media users, and journalists amid growing rights concerns.

More than 60 searches of the homes and offices of Belarusian human rights organisations
and their staff reported between 14 and 16 July.

Documents and IT equipment, including laptops, mobile phones and computers
seized during searches.

Amnesty International also reported that at least 46 human rights and other civil society
organisations in Belarus had been shut down.

So far, 100 organisations have closed across the country.

Rights Concerns Raised

“This is much bigger than just a crackdown,” said Tanya Lokshina, at Human Rights Watch.

“At a government meeting on 22 July, President Alexander Lukashenko unapologetically
described the move to shut down dozens of civil society groups as ‘a purge’ – and that’s
what it is, a vicious large-scale mop-up operation aimed at eviscerating critical voices.”

Since he was elected head of the state last year, Belarusian President Alexander
Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, has launched an unprecedented
repression campaign against rights activists.

Since then, tens of thousands of people have been detained or forced to live abroad.

According to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Viasna, at least
35,000 peaceful protesters have been detained, there have been 4,691 documented
criminal court cases, 608 political prisoners and about 1,800 reports of torture.

Hundreds of human rights activists have been persecuted and thousands have had to flee
the country.

 

The Home Office reported 70 racist incidents by far-right citizens against asylum seekers in hotel accommodation.

However, activists who defend asylum seekers’ stay at the hotels say the actual figures are much higher. 

The data, which covers 1 January 2020 until 13 July this year, is under intense
scrutiny by MPs after their untenable conditions were revealed, as well as a large-scale 
Covid outbreak in the former.

In September 2020, Penally barracks in Pembrokeshire opened but closed soon in March last year. Later, the hotel and some other recently closed barracks increased exponentially with the pandemic in March 2020. 

Although the barracks were closed in April, at least four racism incidents were recorded in
Napier barracks between September and December. Some 176 asylum seekers currently live there. 

Just one incident at Penally barracks reported to the Home Office last year and none in 2021. However, witness statements from legal challenges by asylum seekers living there reveal a catalogue of disturbing episodes, including an attempt to ram a refugee with a car.
Others include: stones and bottles being thrown, rape threats, attempts to start fights,
fireworks shot through the gate, and eggings. According to witness statements, a farm
shop in the area said some of the far-right supporters had asked to buy pigeon scarers to
mimic the sound of gun fire and frighten the asylum seekers.

The number of incidents recorded in hotels has tripled this year, with 40 examples reported, up from 13 last year.

On Saturday 7 August, the far-right organisation Britain First posted a video on its website
headlined “Britain First exposes an illegal immigrant hotel in Hull” in which members of the
organisation say they posed as journalists to confront asylum seekers.

One asylum seeker from Yemen experienced two incidents involving far-right protesters at
his Home Office-provided hotel on the outskirts of London.

“They were driving around the hotel recording us on video,” he said. “They were insulting
us, swearing at us and screaming things like ‘go out from our country, why are you eating
our food, go away from us, you are strangers here’. We were too scared to go outside the
hotel and felt like it was a prison we had to stay inside.”

He added: “We fled countries where there is a lot of torture and persecution and felt safe
when we arrived here. But when we saw this kind of racist attack, we felt we were not protected.”

Maddie Harris, of Humans for Rights Network, said: “Ghettoising people seeking safety in
large-scale accommodations such as hotels and army barracks exposes them to harm. The
figures shown here are not an accurate representation of the level of racial abuse endured
by the people we support. We have had numerous conversations with asylum seekers
where they have told us how unsafe they feel due to frequent incidents of racial abuse that
they have experienced in and around these accommodations.”

Clare Moseley, the founder of Care4Calais, said: “Targeting vulnerable asylum seekers is an
act of extreme cowardice. Our government must support people seeking asylum to
integrate into our communities rather than putting them in places like Napier barracks or
large hotels.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “It is unacceptable for anyone in asylum accommodation
to experience hostile or racist incidents and we ensure each incident is thoroughly
investigated. We work closely with a range of organisations to ensure immediate support
and assistance is provided to people living in the accommodation and if needed escalate to law enforcement.”

 

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