Lithuania PM accuses Belarus of 'weaponising' migrants
Lithuania’s prime minister has accused Belarus of allowing illegal immigrants to enter the country, after Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said he won’t prevent migrants from crossing the border.
"It's not ... just an episode of illegal immigration like we see on the other borders of the European Union", said Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte, speaking near Dubiciai, by the sparsely populated, forested border with Belarus.
"There were threats from Mr Lukashenko, who was threatening the European Union that it will be flooded with drugs and migrants, and here we go - in a couple of weeks we see a rapid increase in people who are crossing the border illegally".
Lithuania’s foreign minister went so far as to say Belarus was “weaponising” migration, and that it was engaged in a “hybrid attack against Europe” by tempting migrants with package tourist deals, including flights from Baghdad, minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told the Financial Times.
“This is weaponised migration that is directly aimed at Lithuania. The reason? It’s quite easy to guess. We are outspoken, we shelter the main opposition leaders [from Belarus],” Landsbergis said, and accused Belarusian state-owned tourist agency Tsentrkurort of using Boeing 777 planes to bring some 1,000 Iraqis and Syrians to Minsk.
Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said he would let migrants in following EU sanctions, after Belarus forced a Ryanair plane carrying Belarusian dissident journalist Roman Protasevich to land in Minsk, where he was arrested.
Lukashenko said during an address in the Belarusian parliament: “We stopped drugs and migrants — now you will eat and catch them yourselves."
Lithuania has received no more than 90 migrants annually in 2017-2020, and most of them come from Iraq, as well as Iran, Syria, Egypt and Turkey.
The country has stopped 387 migrants at the Belarusian border up until June 14, up from 74 last year.
“Lukashenko’s job right now is to take revenge,” Franak Viacorka, an advisor to Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is currently in Lithuania told the FT. “But he has such limited opportunities to take revenge, that he is trying to create some problems on the border because that is the only leverage he has.”
Several studies have shown an increase in xenophobia and racist attacks in Europe, in part connected to anti-immigrant rhetoric.