My girlfriend, who is a Russian citizen and resident in Poland, was traveling through Belarus in order to return to Poland. However she was not allowed to leave Belarus when trying to cross the border into Poland; Belarusian border agents claimed she would need a valid reason to leave the country. For example, they asked for a work contract from Poland translated into Russian.

To me, this seems highly illegal, but I have no knowledge of international law. Is it ok in any sense? Should she complain to the Russian or Polish embassy?

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    Does this answer your question? What international laws or treaties are there, if any, that encourage countries to prevent people from leaving their countries illegally. I know the questions are different but the answers are the same. However, I would recommend checking how corrupt the authorities are in that region before filing a complaint though, for safety reasons. Sep 28 at 2:57
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    If anything, the natural place to seek assistance would her own country's consular network, i.e. the nearest Russian consulate. International law grants them specific rights, including demanding access to their nationals to the local authorities (if, e.g., someone was detained at the border). Of course, I have no idea whether Russia would be receptive to such a complaint or able to do anything and I am not sure it's worth trying.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 28 at 11:38
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    Consider asking at Travel for practical considerations or at Law for specific information about the laws involved. Whether there or here, keep in mind that Russia and Belarus have a close relationship that is not unlike the European Union in some respects, at least on paper, especially in areas such as free movement of each other's citizens between the two countries.
    – phoog
    Sep 28 at 12:55
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    I've voted to reopen this question because the general international law covered in the supposed duplicate does not help much in understanding the relationship between Russia and Belarus.
    – phoog
    Sep 28 at 13:04
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    I sympathise with @phoog's reasoning for reopening the question: it is not a dupe. However, I also think it is off-topic here as it is not asking about government or politics. It might be on-topic on Law.
    – Jan
    Sep 28 at 17:20

There are several different angles to this. Transit is not always a human right:

  • Countries can specify entry and exit points.
    That can go as far as banning the crossing to a specific neighbour. There is a recognized human right to leave a country (absent criminal charges or the like), but that does not allow one to pick the time and place. There could even be different crossing points for different classes of traveler.
  • Quarantines.
    As you know, there is a pandemic going on. Countries can prohibit travel for non-essential purposes. Look at what Australia has been doing.
  • Entry restrictions.
    Airlines can be fined if they transport passengers without valid entry visa. That causes them to refuse transportation for some passengers without straightforward documentation, even if they are allowed to enter by law.

That being said, the situation between Belarus and the EU is political. The EU considers the most recent Belarussian relection results to be forged and reacted with sanctions. Belarus passed counter-sanctions. But the three bullet points above show that highly illegal might be too strong.

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    I have trouble seeing how any of this really applies to the OP's situation. There is no suggestion this wasn't an exit point, that it was close at the time or anything else of that order, the border guards demanded a specific document to a specific person. You mention entry restrictions (and rightly so as that would be the natural way to prevent transit) but Belarus did not prevent that person from entering, demand a visa, etc. It's difficult to see how this could be interpreted as anything else than an arbitrary restriction on leaving a country.
    – Relaxed
    Sep 28 at 11:32
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    @Relaxed another angle here is the freedom of movement that the two components of the Union State grant to each other's citizens. Presumably this does not extend to quite so strong a right as EU citizens have to depart the territory of a member state. For all I know, Belarus may have an obligation to enforce Russian restrictions on the departure of Russian citizens, or there may be unified emigration restrictions.
    – phoog
    Sep 28 at 13:00

I'm answering this from a (geo)political perspective. If you want a more legally focused answer then I would suggest asking on Law.SE as well. In this case, I'm considering what a country is allowed to do to foreigners from an international law perspective and what other countries can do in retaliation to a country crossing the line.

Generally speaking I would say that Belarus has no authority to prevent a person from leaving the country. Whether someone leaving Belarus is allowed entry into another country is not Belarus' business. It might be Belarus' business if they have some complaint against you, but that should not be arbitrary. Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Specifically, the right to leave one's country, or any country, is a human right. As article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

To answer your question more literally, let's have another look:

On what basis can a 3rd country can legally forbid a foreigner from leaving the country if there is no accusation of crime?

So we've seen the international law perspective above. It's a violation of human rights to prevent someone from leaving when there are no good reasons for doing so. That said, there is a difference between having international law on your side and being treated in accordance with international law. For example, the US State Department warns US citizens against traveling to Belarus:

Belarusian authorities have detained tens of thousands of individuals, including U.S. citizens, for alleged affiliations with opposition parties and alleged participation in political demonstrations. U.S. citizens in the vicinity of the demonstrations have been arrested. Some have been victims of harassment and/or mistreatment by Belarusian officials. The Belarusian authorities have targeted individuals associated with independent and foreign media. On May 23, the Belarusian authorities forced the landing of a commercial aircraft transiting Belarusian airspace in order to arrest an opposition journalist who was a passenger.

Belarus enforces special restrictions on dual U.S.-Belarusian nationals and may refuse to acknowledge dual U.S.-Belarusian nationals’ U.S. citizenship, including denying or delaying U.S. consular assistance to detained dual nationals.

It seems that they are aware of Belarussian violations of human rights, but there are limits to what they can do. In your example, I would say that complaining to Polish and Russian authorities can't hurt (but whether they can help is another matter). To be safe though, I would recommend following the relevant travel advisories. I am not sure about the Russian and Polish advisories, but if you can avoid travelling through potentially dangerous countries then that's less risky.

The real world aspect to the question is that there's little you (or your lawyers or your own government) can do when it does happen. For example, James K wrote the following in answer to a question about the arbitrary arrest and detention of a British woman in Iran (partial quote):

Zaghari-Radcliffe is just a random woman. It's harsh, but she's not worth that much to the British. She isn't worth either the cost in lives of those special ops sent to rescue her, nor the diplomatic cost of an act of war.

From that point of view, I would say that a country can prevent a foreigner from leaving even without an accusation of a crime and the decision can be completely arbitrary. Of course, the crux in your question is the word legally. We know that it's not legal by the standard of international law, but a sovereign country can choose to ignore that, as Belarus does.

The (geo)political aspect to this asks what others (your lawyers, other countries, international organizations) can do to prevent a country from ignoring international rules, like human rights. In international relations there are two categories of solutions:

  • soft power, which is diplomacy. By talking to the offending country it may be possible to persuade them to act in your favor. This works well if relations are friendly, because failure to resolve things amicably hurts both sides. The friendlier the countries are, the more they stand to lose if the relation turns sour.

  • hard power, which is about putting pressure militarily or even economically to force the other into submission. This is quite a big leap from soft power because these are not friendly moves.

    • Economic sanctions are the simplest tool but they act slowly and they require that many countries participate so that the target actually feels the economic pain. These tools may also be ineffective because they can harm the general population as well as the leadership which you want to punish.

    • The last option is to go to war. This is both costly (financially and w.r.t. loss of life), legally questionable (unless you have a good reason, you will be seen as the agressor), and unpopular. As such, countries are very reluctant to go to war over minor issues.

As you can see, both soft power and hard power are mostly tools employed by countries. It's not something a lawyer can do, other than by asking a country to consider it. In the case of Belarus, some countries are pressuring the country through sanctions. This is actually for a whole host of reasons which are detailed in that Politico article.


  1. International law forbids a country from preventing people from leaving unless there are good reasons to detain them.

  2. A country can ignore international law.

  3. Forcing countries to abide by international law is hard. It is up to the international community to force countries to abide by it, either diplomatically or through force.

  • I don't think that international law requires a country to allow transit in a specific direction. If the Russian in question can leave Belarus towards Russia, all reqirements would be fulfilled, I'd say.
    – o.m.
    Sep 28 at 4:23
  • @o.m. interesting point, though as a layperson I'd say if they let you in then they also have to let you out. I'm not sure on what basis a country can determine which way you should go out, unless you're being escorted out. Maybe you're right about there being no border crossings with Poland, I haven't checked that to be honest and with the current Covid / political developments those may be closed.
    – JJJ
    Sep 28 at 4:26
  • I am aware of cases where certain crossing points were only open to residents of the border area, and other points open to all. And of different opening hours for different classes of crossing.
    – o.m.
    Sep 28 at 4:41
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    @o.m., JJJ: this question is complicated by the fact that Russia and Belarus are a supranational union similar to the EU in some respects, and they have at times had an open immigration border similar to the UK and Ireland. I don't know the current state of affairs, but Belarus may have an obligation to enforce Russian laws (or an option to enforce Belarusian laws) on departing Russian citizens. Additionally, Belarus may have an agreement with Poland that requires it to restrict passage across the land border under certain circumstances.
    – phoog
    Sep 28 at 12:52
  • @phoog: the latter seems more probable, although it might not even be a public/written agreement.
    – Fizz
    Sep 28 at 15:43

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