Lithuania is building border walls, while Belarusian autocrat Lukashenko is accused of trying to fuel the EU migrant crisis

Lithuania has started work on a new border fence to stop illegal migration from neighboring Belarus. Officials accuse the country’s unpredictable leader, Alexander Lukashenko, of deliberately trying to fuel a migrant crisis at the EU border.

The initial phase of construction will add less than half a mile to the already existing 48 miles, but officials say they plan to expand the physical barrier to cover other sections of the 421 mile border between neighboring former Soviet states. Much of the border runs through hard-to-patrol forests, with video surveillance not covering more than 40 percent of the route.

Lithuania declared a state of emergency in early July after an unprecedented influx of migrants from Belarus. At that point, the number of daily arrests had exceeded 150, more than double the 2020 total.

The Baltic state has vowed to send back as many as possible. More than a thousand migrants are now housed in hangars and tent cities, which will go out in colder weather.

According to border guards, a total of 1,548 illegal migrants were arrested in the year to July. That is 18 times the previous year’s figure. Most of the arrivals are Iraqi Kurds, with a smaller number from Iran, Syria, Africa, Belarus and Russia. Many arrive without documents.

Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said the appearance of migrants at Lithuania’s door was “no accident” and has accused the Belarusian president of flying in migrants to bring them into the EU in response to Western sanctions.

“We see the process as a hybrid aggression, directed not so much against Lithuania, but against the EU,” she said.

Meanwhile, her interior minister, Agne Bilotaite, indicated that it looked like Minsk’s idiosyncratic attempt to “start a dialogue” with the West.

Alexander Lukashenko has made no secret of a policy to abolish border controls. In May, amid a backlash from the state hijacking of Ryanair flight 4978, he said Belarus would no longer hinder the flow of illegal migrants to Europe.

In June he made his position even clearer: “You are waging a hybrid war against us and asking us to protect you as before? Well, before we stopped drugs and migrants – now you will take them and catch them yourself. “

Western officials believe Mr Lukashenko’s policies go beyond passivity.

According to unconfirmed reports, the vast majority of migrants fly to Belarus at the official invitation of state tourism companies affiliated with the presidential administration. They are then placed in hotels near the Lithuanian border and, with the help of organized crime, extradited to poorly guarded border sections.

There is no evidence that the migrants themselves know the full nature of these systems.

A Telegram account linked to the Belarusian opposition claims it spoke to an eyewitness in the Voranava district of western Belarus – suggesting that migrants were being driven into and out of border areas near the villages of Nacha and Belyuntsy by bus. These areas used to be high security areas with a system of permits for residents.

The arming of migrants appears to be the latest front in the longstanding tensions between Belarus and its western neighbor. In the wake of the tough crackdown since the controversial elections last August, Lithuania has become the de facto home of the Belarusian opposition. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the woman who almost certainly won these elections by landslide, is the most prominent of these new exiles.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko


On Friday, the parliamentary chairs of a dozen foreign committees around the world signed an open letter condemning “politically motivated human trafficking”.

“Using the weakest as leverage in a political dispute is shameful and can be compared to the piracy in May,” the statement said.

Pavlo Latushko, former Minister of Culture for Mr. Lukashenko, who now heads the Belarusian government-in-exile from Lithuania, said human trafficking was not the only thing the West should be concerned about.

“Lukashenko’s own statements suggest that his next step is to organize the flow of drugs into Europe,” he said The independent one.

“But the dictator’s absurd logic does not end there, and nothing should be ruled out – not even attempts to bring nuclear material into the EU.”

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