Belarus opens investigation into death of Iraqi on border with Lithuania

An Iraqi has reportedly died near the Belarus-Lithuania border as tensions between the two countries are high. An investigation into the death has been launched.

Belarusian border guards said Wednesday they had found an Iraqi man in “serious” condition in the village of Benyakoni, near the border with Lithuania and about 200 kilometers northwest of the capital Minsk.

The unidentified Iraqi citizen “died in the arms of the border guards,” according to the Belarusian presidency’s Telegram channel, which is listed as semi-official.

“The president was immediately informed of this shocking murder of an Iraqi returning from Lithuania,” the broadcaster said.

“Nonsense, a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm”

Belarusian officials said last week that five Iraqis had been turned back from the border with Lithuania with “injuries including dog bites and had to be hospitalized”.

Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite told reporters the news was “nonsense, a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale,” the news agency said Associated press (AP).

Lithuania’s Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas added that it was “an obvious provocation”. The minister went on to say that Lithuania is “exposed to a hybrid attack and the dissemination of such information is a classic example of this process,” the minister reported AP.

The controversial Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced an investigation into what he called the “murder” of the Iraqi migrant | Photo: Maxim Guchek / BelTA / TASS / dpa / picture-alliance

Investigation to determine the circumstances of death

However, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has already ordered an investigation into the incident, adding that the deceased’s relatives will be located and visas will be issued to come to Belarus to recover the body.

Belarusian border guards claimed Tuesday that around 40 migrants, including women and children, have been turned back at the Lithuanian border since the country instituted pushbacks to stop migrants trying to enter from Belarus via irregular border crossings.

Border officials added that these migrants had suffered “physical injuries” and accused the EU Member State of using “force” against migrants.

Lithuania strengthens its border with Belarus |  Photo: Janis Laizans / REUTERS
Lithuania strengthens its border with Belarus | Photo: Janis Laizans / REUTERS

Desperate measures in “Europe’s last dictatorship”

The European Union, meanwhile, has accused Belarus of arming migrants on the border with Lithuania for political reasons, as Lithuanian officials suspect that the influx of migrants is being orchestrated by the Belarusian government, led by Lukashenko.

Tensions between the two countries have flared after the controversial re-election of the authoritarian leader in August 2020. Belarus, led by Lukashenko, is often referred to as the last remaining dictatorship in Europe, as political dissent in the East is routinely countered with state-sponsored violence.

Continue reading: Patrol Lithuanian border with Belarus

Its main challenger, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who was recognized by several governments as the legitimate winner of the vote, has since lived in exile in Lithuania. Other opposition figures like her have also sought safety after Lukashenko’s crackdown on protests in the capital Minsk and elsewhere in the country following the elections in Lithuania.

In response, the EU has imposed a series of sanctions on Belarus that have effectively cut the country off from much of the international community. The spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Anatoly Glaz, rejected “unfounded allegations” on Tuesday that Belarus was using migrants to exert pressure on the EU.

Trucks with help from Poland arrived in Lithuania last week to help with migration influx |  Photo: EPA / VALDEMAR DOVEIKO
Trucks with help from Poland arrived in Lithuania last week to help with migration influx | Photo: EPA / VALDEMAR DOVEIKO

One-way ticket to Minsk

This year alone, Lithuanian border guards arrested more than 4,000 migrants, most of whom were identified as Iraqi nationals. In 2020, only 81 migrants were caught crossing the same border.

The EU has since asked the Iraqi government to curb the flow of migrants into Belarus. Most of them are supposed to arrive by scheduled flights to Belarus and reach the Lithuanian border after landing.

Lithuania has also accused Belarus of facilitating these flights to wreak havoc on the border.

Continue reading: More than 3,000 migrants intercepted in Lithuania in the past few months

Border guards along the Lithuanian-Belarusian border are instructed to guide migrants to regular border crossings |  Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis / AP Photo / picture-alliance
Border guards along the Lithuanian-Belarusian border are instructed to guide migrants to regular border crossings | Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis / AP Photo / picture-alliance

Red Cross criticizes Lithuanian politics

On Wednesday, August 4, the Red Cross announced that “Lithuania’s decision to reject migrants trying to cross the border from Belarus is incompatible with international law,” the news agency reported Associated press (AP).

“Refusals of asylum seekers are not compatible with the Geneva Refugee Convention, the EU Charter of Fundamental Human Rights and other human rights instruments,” said Egle Samuchovaite, Program Director of the Lithuanian Red Cross AP.

About 35 Iraqis crossed the border without papers on Wednesday, the Lithuanian border guards said AP. These arrivals were significantly fewer than the three-digit numbers of people who have recently arrived.

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