August 3, 2021

Lithuania declares a state of emergency over migrants from Belarus

In Lithuania, the government has declared a state of emergency because of a large influx of migrants via neighboring Belarus. Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said on Friday evening’s decision that “there are no major challenges that we cannot overcome, but it is important to have the legal, technical and logistical tools to be able to respond to the challenges with quick decisions”.

Gerhard Gnauck

Political correspondent for Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania based in Warsaw.

Since Friday, the border guards have picked up well over a hundred migrants who had illegally entered the country via the wooded border region to Belarus every day. Most of them came into the country at Druskininkai, near the border triangle with Belarus and Poland.

In total, more than 1200 migrants have been picked up on the border with Belarus since the beginning of the year – after only 81 in the entire previous year. The government sees this as a means of the “hybrid war” of the Lukashenko regime against the European Union. This year the dictator had publicly threatened that Belarus had previously stopped “drugs and migrants” at the border, but that would change.

“We need a fence or a living obstacle”

Lithuania’s Interior Minister Bilotaite said she had sent a request to all municipalities in the country of three million people to see if they could take in migrants and what it would cost. The answers should be available by Wednesday. So far, the migrants – mostly from Iraq, Iran, Syria, African countries and Belarus itself – have usually been picked up and taken to a spontaneously built tent city near Pabrade. Another tent city is to be built.

The migrants have to undergo a Covid test on arrival and again after ten days. According to the border guards, some have no identity papers with them, many have applied for asylum. This means that they are initially allowed to stay in the EU and the Schengen area. The Lithuanian government apparently also wants to mobilize soldiers and even members of a rifle association to keep the situation under control.

The liberal mayor of the capital Vilnius, Remigijus Simasius, has expressed skepticism about the government’s call. The living space that he can provide will not be very comfortable. School buildings are an option, but hotels are not. He called for “speaking openly and sending the message to the international community and potential migrants that we are not the country that keeps the gates open, where they will be bedded on roses and will be fine”.

First of all, they have to be accepted “for humanitarian reasons”, but that is not enough: “We either need a fence or a living obstacle or something else to limit their number. Today we have hundreds of migrants, and tens of thousands if the problem is not solved at the root. ”He left open what exactly he meant by that.

Advice from colleagues in Greece

Interior Minister Bilotaite announced on Monday that the procedure for granting asylum would be shortened to ten days. You get advice from your colleagues in Greece on how to deal with people who neither show papers nor want to give information. Lithuanian officials would also travel to Iraq and Turkey to discuss migrants’ return. There are indications that people in Belarus are being gathered in centers in order to then be transported to Lithuania in an organized manner, on “a deliberate and well-organized action”.

The European border protection agency Frontex has now dispatched ten officers and some vehicles to support the Baltic States, most of them to Lithuania, the rest to Latvia. Another thirty officers have been announced for this month. “We have now sent a call to all EU countries to provide personnel,” said a spokesman for the FAZ on Monday.

The officials from other countries would come with their service pistols, but without the right to arrest anyone: “Every patrol has a local employee who can do that.” The spokesman did not want to comment on whether Belarus encourages illegal migration. “We see a trend that certain countries outside the EU are using migrants as a geopolitical instrument, which makes Frontex even more important.”

The unusual influx of migrants had started several weeks ago. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she would support Lithuania during a visit to Vilnius last week: “Your worries and your problems here in Lithuania are European problems and European worries.” On Monday, EU Council President Charles Michel was also expected in Vilnius. He is supposed to visit the eastern border in Lithuania and talk about problems in the neighborhood with Belarus and Russia, including migration as well as the new Astrawez nuclear power plant in Belarus near the border.

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