Authorities in EU member Lithuania say their border guards have been ordered to turn back migrants attempting to illegally enter the country as a crisis continues amid a surge in crossings from neighboring Belarus.
The Interior Ministry said on August 3 that the "use of force depends on the circumstances" but was authorized if needed. Local and European officials blame the flurry of illegal crossings from Belarus, by mostly Iraqi citizens, on Alyaksandr Lukashenka's increasingly disruptive actions to stay in power and resist international pressure since an election one year ago that's widely considered to have been fraudulent. "First of all, [Lithuanian border] officers tell them [migrants] that they are lost; that they have arrived in the beautiful country of Belarus and [went] the wrong way while enjoying its nature but now they must continue the tourist track back into that country,” Lithuanian Vice Interior Minister Arnoldas Abramavicius told reporters. He added that guards may use force and "It cannot be ruled out that officers will face aggression” from migrants.
Vilnius's announcement came one day after a record 287 migrants crossed from Belarus as EU Commissioner of Home Affairs Yiva Johansson visited Lithuania to help tackle the crisis.
"This is a provocation of the Lukashenka regime," Johansson said in Lithuania, where the European Union pledged millions of euros in assistance to help Vilnius address the problem. "We must show that there is no free access to EU territory." More than 4,000 migrants have been detained by Lithuanian authorities so far this year, officials say, compared to a total of 81 in 2020.
The 679-kilometer Lithuanian-Belarusian border is mostly without physical barriers.
More than two-thirds of them are Iraqi nationals who appear to have arrived in Minsk from increased direct flights from Baghdad. Belarus is said to be preparing more direct flights from Al-Basra and two other Iraqi cities. Lukashenka has ordered sweeps, tough dispersals, and tough action against reporters and media since street protests broke out after his claim of reelection to a sixth presidential term in August 2020, but has also proved an irritant internationally.
Belarus's national carrier has been banned from EU airports and other EU measures have been taken to respond to a dubious bomb threat that rerouted an international passenger flight to Minsk in May.
After the Ryanair flight landed, Belarusian officials detained opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega, his Russian girlfriend who was also aboard.