Lithuania says Belarus is using refugees as a weapon for refugees

The Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis looks on during a joint press conference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas on March 17, 2021 in Berlin. REUTERS / Hannibal Hanschke / Pool

BRUSSELS, July 12 (Reuters) – The European Union should consider sanctioning Belarus more heavily for Minsk flying in migrants from abroad to illegally send them to the bloc, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Monday.

His government accuses the Belarusian authorities of sending hundreds of mostly Iraqi migrants across the border to Lithuania, an EU member state.

Lithuania began building a 550 km barbed wire barrier on the border with Belarus on Friday, a move that EU foreign ministers should discuss in Brussels. Continue reading

“If refugees are used as a political weapon … I will speak to my colleagues so that the European Union has a common strategy,” said Landsbergis on arrival.

He suggested that the migrants be used as leverage on the EU, which has imposed a range of sanctions on Belarus since a controversial presidential election last August, which was followed by police in street protests.

“We have to be very strict with the regimes that use such weapons, especially with sanctions if such hybrid attacks are used against the European Union,” said Landsbergis.

He said the EU should work out a fifth package of sanctions after blacklisting Belarusian officials who started in response to the presidential election but are now trying to punish wider abuses. Lukashenko has denied election fraud.

Last month the EU imposed far-reaching economic sanctions on Belarus’ main export industries as well as banks and finances in an attempt to capture the sources of income of President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994.

EU leaders were outraged when Belarusian authorities intercepted a passenger plane between Athens and Vilnius on May 23 and arrested a journalist critical of the regime and his girlfriend who were on board.

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry has announced to Reuters that it will propose a gradual widening of economic sanctions.

The EU border protection agency Frontex said Monday it would send additional officers, patrol cars and experts to speak to migrants to gather information about criminal networks.

“The situation on the Lithuanian border with Belarus remains worrying. I have decided to send a border security measure to Lithuania to strengthen the EU’s external borders, “Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri said in a statement.

In the first week of July, the Lithuanian authorities registered more than 800 illegal border crossings on the border with Belarus, according to Frontex.

While most migrants came from Iraq, Iran and Syria in the first half of the year, nationals of the Congo, Gambia, Guinea, Mali and Senegal made up the majority of arrivals in July.

Reporting by Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold, Editing by John Chalmers and Timothy Heritage

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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