Lithuania has been struggling with the migration crisis for several months. The flow of illegal migrants from the countries of the Middle East and Africa started from the border of Belarus in May. Then the President of the country Alexander Lukashenko said that "he will no longer stop them," the reason is the response to the sanctions against Belarus after the forced landing of the Ryanair passenger plane. In the EU, however, they say that the Belarusian authorities not only do not stop them, but on purpose bring them to the border on a large scale.
In Lithuania there was a new record: on the night of July 28, 171 migrants tried to illegally enter the country. All detainees are citizens of Iraq.
Since the beginning of the year, 3,027 migrants from Belarus have tried to get to Lithuania. Of these, 1,910 were citizens of Iraq, 191 were Congolese citizens, 129 were from Cameroon, 83 were from Russia, 81 were from Iran, 71 were from Syria, and another 77 people have citizenship of Afghanistan and other countries.
We will tell you how Lithuania is trying to solve the problem, what they say in the EU and how migrants get to the border.
"Revenge on Europe"
Official Minsk admitted that it has weakened control over the flows of illegal immigrants, but does not consider this an aggression. At the end of May, Lukashenko said that now Western countries will independently "exercise control over drug trafficking and illegal migration."
“We stopped drugs and migrants - now you will use and catch them yourself,” Lukashenko said.
On June 28, the Belarusian authorities announced that they were beginning the "suspension procedure" of the readmission agreement with the EU (an obligation to accept back citizens of third countries who illegally entered the EU from Belarus).
As a result, Iraqi Kurds, citizens of Iran, Syria, Belarus and the Russian Federation, Turkey, Cameroon, Congo, Afghanistan and other countries began to cross the border from the Belarusian territory. About half of the migrants are women and children.
Many migrants find themselves in Lithuania without documents, which complicates the process of considering applications for refugee status. If documents are available, it can last for several months. The procedure looks like this: while the issue of asylum is being considered, migrants are not allowed to work. Lithuania should provide them with accommodation and food in temporary accommodation centers. The maintenance of each person costs 20-30 euros per day. Those who are denied refugee status, the Lithuanians will try to return to their homeland.
The Lithuanian authorities say that Belarus has not only stopped fighting illegal immigrants, but is deliberately sending them to the border.
“After talking with illegal immigrants, it turns out that they were in Belarus, then at hour X they were ordered to leave the territory of Belarus, showed the way to Lithuania,” said Vice Minister of Internal Affairs of Lithuania Arnoldas Abramavicius.
The Lithuanian Bureau of Investigation LRT, together with the Russian edition of Mediazona and the investigation project Scanner, found out how the transfer is taking place.
“Those who want to emigrate from Iraq just buy a ticket to Minsk. They settle in normal three-star and even five-star hotels - Sputnik, Yubileinaya. They say that they live there for 3-4 days, after which a Belarusian guide comes and takes them to the border and lets them go, showing: Europe is there, "said Indre Makaraityte, head of LTR, in an interview with Radio Liberty.
Migrant and local riots
At first, the refugees were accommodated in a special center in the town of Pabrade, then tent camps were set up, but they also became overcrowded. Foreigners began to be accommodated in hostels and school buildings throughout the country.
Migrants began to express dissatisfaction with the conditions: they did not like the food, the fact that Muslim women were housed with men, and the fact that they could not walk in the city. Migrants refuse to be vaccinated against coronavirus. All this escalates into riots.
On July 26, in the building of a former school in Verebeyai, the Iraqis forbade other migrants to take delivered food and demanded that they be released into the street, but before that they refused to eat and forbade other migrants to eat.
Residents of Lithuanian border towns also show their disagreement. In the Rudnikai area, the road leading to the landfill was blocked so that trucks with the things necessary to equip a tent camp for migrants could not pass. The police forcefully dispersed the crowd, they had to use tear gas, and eight people were detained. The Lithuanian government calls the protests in Rudnikai a provocation and anti-state action.
Last week, in the town of Deveniskiai, local residents did not allow the construction of a fence around the former school dormitory, where they planned to settle migrants. They argued that they were worried about the safety of the children, since there was a gymnasium next to the aforementioned hostel. And the number of migrants planned for resettlement exceeded the number of inhabitants of the settlement.
This is not all the difficulty. In the city of Alytus, 70 migrants were accommodated in the building on the former airfield, and a scabies center was discovered there.
The fence, for which there was not enough wire. How Lithuania gets out of the situation
The Lithuanian government directly blames Minsk for organizing the migrant crisis. They believe that Minsk is using refugees as a means of political pressure on the EU due to the imposition of sanctions.
On July 3, Lithuania declared an extreme situation. On Tuesday, July 27, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Lithuania Agne Bilotaite said that the ministry had already proposed to introduce a state of emergency in border municipalities. This will mean the closure of the border.
Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anushauskas disagreed with her and said that there were no prerequisites for the introduction of a state of emergency yet. According to him, the army will guard the accommodation of migrants. President Gitanas Nauseda said the state of emergency would be declared only as a last resort.
On July 22, the President of Lithuania signed amendments to the law on the legal status of foreigners. The amendments shorten the processing time for an asylum application to 10 days and permanently deprive asylum seekers of the right to appeal against a court decision. In addition, an asylum seeker may be detained for up to six months and restricted in his right to leave the place of settlement if he arrived in Lithuania illegally under martial law and an emergency.
On July 10, Lithuania announced that it will spend 42 million euros to strengthen the border with Belarus - the money will go to both the construction of the fence and the video surveillance system. For reference: Lithuania and Belarus have almost 680 km of common border.
But on July 24, construction of the fence was suspended due to a shortage of barbed wire. From the army reserve they used 4.5 km of barbed wire. The authorities have begun negotiations with other countries on the purchase of materials, since the wire of the required diameter is not produced in Lithuania. Negotiations are underway, including with Denmark and Slovenia. Estonia was one of the first to decide to help Lithuania, which is going to send 100 km of wire for the border fence.
What do they say in the EU and how do they help?
President of the European Council Charles Michel said that the European Union unanimously condemns the decision of Belarus to start letting illegal migrants into Lithuania as a response to EU sanctions.
The EU is helping Lithuania with the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. The agency has dispatched additional patrol vehicles to the Lithuanian-Belarusian border.
Greece is ready to help Lithuania curb the flow of migrants by providing experts and technical means.
Lithuania has applied for help through the EU civil protection mechanism, 12 countries have already offered assistance such as tents, beds and generators. The European Commission coordinates delivery and finances up to 75% of transportation costs.