Lithuania declares a state of emergency due to migration from Belarus

EU member Lithuania has declared a state of emergency in recent days due to the influx of migrants from neighboring Belarus

HELSINKI – Lithuania has declared a state of emergency in recent days due to the influx of migrants from neighboring Belarus as tensions between the European Union and Belarus escalate.

Lithuania’s Interior Minister Agle Bilotaite said late Friday that the decision proposed by the state border guard service was not necessary because of an increased threat to the country of 2.8 million people, but rather to create a more robust system for dealing with incoming migrants.

“It is very important to have a legal system and tools to be able to take decisions quickly in response to emerging challenges,” Bilotaite said during a government meeting on Friday evening, according to the Baltic News Service.

Authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has warned that his country will take revenge on recent EU sanctions against his regime by easing border controls for undocumented migrants. The bloc tightened sanctions against Belarus after Lukashenko’s government forced a passenger plane to divert and land and arrested a prominent journalist on the flight.

Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte’s cabinet declared a state of emergency after border officials reported on Friday that on the last day they had arrested around 150 illegal migrants who came from Belarus, with which Lithuania shares a 679-kilometer border.

The number of migrants detained at the border with Belarus is three times the previous daily record, Lithuanian officials said. CCTV footage released by the Lithuanian border guards showed migrants jumping over a fence separating Belarus and Lithuania and either crawling, walking or running to the Lithuanian side.

According to the Baltic News Service, most migrants have already applied for asylum in Lithuania, including citizens from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Iraq and Syria. Lithuania has set up camps to accommodate the growing number of migrants.

Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Mantas Adomenas said the main problem is identifying migrants who arrive without papers.

“We are now talking about how to identify them, give them documents so that economic migrants can be returned to their country of origin,” Adomenas told LNK Lithuania.

A total of 822 migrants who entered from Belarus have been arrested in Lithuania so far this year, up from 81 in 2020, the Baltic News Service said.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen paid a visit to the Lithuanian capital Vilnius on Friday and pledged to help the country, a former Soviet republic, cope with the influx of migrants.

“Your worries and your problems here in Lithuania are European worries and problems,” said von der Layen in a joint press conference with Simonyte and the Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda. “We really stand by your side in this difficult time.”

Von der Layen pledged help from Frontex, the EU’s border and cost protection agency, which said on Thursday that it would send border protection teams not only to Lithuania but also to Latvia, a Baltic neighbor that also has a border with Belarus.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that it would suspend an agreement with Brussels to curb illegal immigration into the EU.

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Follow all AP global migration stories at https://apnews.com/hub/migration


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