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Lithuania seeks tougher EU migration curbs to stem crossings from Belarus

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By Reuters
Lithuania seeks tougher EU migration curbs to stem crossings from Belarus
Lithuania seeks tougher EU migration curbs to stem crossings from Belarus   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Andrius Sytas

VILNIUS – Lithuania, facing a surge of illegal border crossings from Belarus, said it would ask other European Union countries to approve tougher rules on migration at an EU meeting on Wednesday overshadowed by the crisis in Afghanistan.

Lithuania accuses Belarus of deliberately flying Iraqi and other migrants to Minsk and then sending them over the border to claim asylum as retaliation for sanctions imposed by the EU on the former Soviet republic. Belarus blames Lithuania and Poland, which has also been affected along with Latvia.

The issue has become more acute in the light of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan that was completed on Sunday. Many Afghans are trying to flee the country, fearing reprisals.

A total of 4,124 people – largely Iraqis – have crossed into Lithuanian territory illegally so far this year, mostly in July, though only 14 entered between Aug. 5 and 17, as Lithuania and its neighbour Latvia began pushing back those entering from Belarus.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said it is “deeply concerned” by the pushbacks and the Lithuanian Red Cross said it doubted they meet countries’ obligations under UN, European and other international treaties on human rights.

Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said ahead of the video conference of EU home affairs ministers that the law needed to be changed.

“Member states and the EU must have conditions to protect their national security, take necessary measures, and not be forced to face sanctions,” she said in Vilnius.

“European law no longer meets today’s needs. As there is a hybrid attack (by Belarus) against states, the system no longer works”, she said, without giving details of her proposal.

The ministers will accuse Belarus of committing unacceptable aggression by sending migrants to Lithuania’s border, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters on Tuesday while still subject to change.

The EU stands ready to provide additional border officers and money to tackle the migrant surge, the draft statement said.

“I will tell the ministers that all the human rights organisations should pay attention not just to Lithuania, they should look at what goes on in Belarus, how it ignores human rights, tortures people and lacks humanity”, Bilotaite told reporters.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of using refugees “in a hybrid way to undermine security”.