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Illegal crossings into Lithuania this year hit 3,000

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By Euronews  with AP
A member of the Lithuania State Border Guard Service patrols on the border with Belarus.
A member of the Lithuania State Border Guard Service patrols on the border with Belarus.   -   Copyright  Mindaugas Kulbis/AP

Lithuania's border guard service said it detained 171 people caught illegally crossing from Belarus into Lithuania on Tuesday night, the largest number in a single day in 2021 and bringing the total number of migrants detained so far this year to 3,027.

The border service said the group of migrants, all from Iraq, will be placed in one of Lithuania's already crowded immigration detention centres. Illegal migration to Lithuania began growing dramatically after new sanctions were imposed on government officials in neighbouring Belarus.

In July some 2,366 migrants were detained, up from 473 in June, and compared to 81 for all of last year. Lithuania has accused Belarusian authorities of organising border crossings by people from the Middle East and Africa. The European Union's border control agency has pledged to step up support to Lithuania to help stem the arrivals.

Lithuanian authorities believe most of the people attempting to enter the country travelled to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, on one of the four weekly flights from Iraq that carry up to 500 passengers on Boeing 747s. Lithuania Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis visited Baghdad this month for talks with Iraqi officials.

Violent protests broke out in Lithuania's Salcininkai district this week as locals blocked roads and burned tires while opposing government plans to establish new immigration detention centres nearby. Police used tear gas to disperse crowds and arrested eight protesters. Two officers were injured.

Lithuania says the influx is an act of retaliation by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Since the authoritarian leader's reelection to a sixth term in an August 2020 vote that the West denounced as rigged, he has cracked down on opposition protests in his country.