Lithuania to turn away migrants crossing in from Belarus
Lithuania has ordered its border guards to turn away, with force if needed, migrants attempting to enter the country as the rapidly growing number of immigrants illegally crossing from neighboring Belarus has become a major foreign policy issue for the small European Union nation.
The Lithuanian Interior Ministry distributed video shot from a helicopter as proof that large groups of immigrants were being escorted to the border by vehicles belonging to Belarus’ border patrol agency. Lithuania says the migrant influx in the past months is an act of retaliation by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko against increased EU sanctions over Belarus’ forced landing of a commercial Ryanair jet with a dissident Belarusian journalist on board.
The dissident, Roman Protasevich, and his Russian girlfriend were arrested.
The Interior Ministry said Tuesday that at least three large migrant groups were stopped in thick woods in the border area between the two countries. Lithuanian border guards ordered them to return to Belarus.
“First of all, officers tell them that they are lost; that they have arrived in the beautiful country of Belarus and [went] the wrong way while enjoying its nature but now they must continue the tourist track back into that country,” Vice Interior Minister Arnoldas Abramavicius told reporters.
If that method proves unsuccessful, he said Lithuania reserved the right to use force to keep migrants away, but “use of force depends on circumstances.”
Vitaly Shishov, who led the Ukrainian-based group Belarusian House for the aid of Belarusians fleeing persecution, is found dead in a Kyiv park.
“It cannot be ruled out that officers will face aggression” from migrants, Abramavicius said, adding that the measures were necessary because of the increase in illegal border crossings. “Lithuania cannot accept this influx that grows day by day.”
Some 4,026 migrants, most of them from Iraq, crossed from Belarus into Lithuania, an EU and NATO nation of about 3 million people, this year.
Lithuanian officials estimate that more than 10,000 more migrants might try to arrive this year as the number of direct flights from Iraq to Minsk, the Belarusian capital, tripled in August and the country has no physical barriers for its nearly 420-mile long border with Belarus.
On Monday, EU officials pledged millions of euros to help Lithuania tackle its migrant crisis.
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