Lithuania has faced an influx of mostly Iraqi migrants in the past few months. It accused the government of Belarus’ authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko of encouraging the migrant flow in retaliation for the EU sanctions against his country following the diversion of a passenger plane to arrest a dissident journalist aboard.
Meanwhile, another EU member, Poland, also said it was seeing a rising number of Iraqi and Afghan migrants trying to enter from Belarus, in what a government official calls an element in a “hybrid war.”
In an emotional Facebook post, Lithuanian parliament’s human rights ombudsman Vytautas Valentinavicius described Lithuanian border police blocking dozens of migrants from crossing into the country and urging them to get back to Belarus while the Belarusian border guards fired warning shots into the air to deter them in a tense standoff.
As the situation escalates, Lukashenko ordered defense and security agencies to “close every meter of the border” to keep out immigrants Lithuania sends back into Belarus.
Belarus state TV posted an image of Belarusian border guards standing in a line to close the border while a migrant with a child sits at their feet.
“The border guards used all necessary means to prevent the unlawful crossing of the border in view of the current situation under which the Lithuanian side is taking foreign citizens seeking refuge in the EU to the border,” the Belarus State Border Committee said.
It said it created mobile tactical groups to patrol the entire length of the border to prevent Lithuania from sending migrants back into Belarus.