Lithuania presses for Belarus sanctions over refugee influx
Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Tuesday that his government had presented the EU with a list of Belarusian citizens and companies Vilnius believes is responsible for ferrying migrant and refugees across its borders.
Countries neighbouring Belarus say they have seen an influx of migrants and refugees, mostly Iraqis, Syrians, and Afghans, crossing their borders. They accuse Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of weaponsing refugees and migrants because the European Union placed sanctions on him.
Over 4,000 migrants, mainly from Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, are thought to have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus in 2021, compared to just 80 in 2020.
Most of the recent arrivals to Lithuania are living in camps. There are 29 camps housing Iraqi refugees in Lithuania, Iraqi foreign ministry spokesman Ahmad al-Sahaf told state media on Tuesday.
Iraqis are being flown home from Belarus on organised flights, with the Iraqi government issuing citizens stuck in the country with temporary passports.
Poland has also seen a rush of refugees at its border with Belarus. Like Lithuania, Poland has said that it will be extending its border wall with Belarus to push the refugees back.
Though most of the refugees on the Belarus-EU borders are Iraqi, Lukashenko said during a summit with allied leaders that most of the refugees sent back to Belarus from Poland were "Afghans – not Iraqis, not Syrians, but Afghans", Belarusian state media reported.
Afghans have been fleeing their country in droves since the Taliban began sweeping through Afghanistan and seizing control of provinces.
Tens of thousands of Afghans and foreigners have been evacuated from the country since the Taliban took over Kabul.
With refugees on the Belarus-EU borders having experienced violence at the hands of both Belarusian and European security forces, migrant and refugee rights groups have condemned governments for failing to protect the vulnerable.
"The Belarusian government knows only too well how to put pressure on Europe - they have learned that from Turkey, Morocco and other countries," refugee rescue organisation Alarm Phone told The New Arab.
"They know that Europe will do everything it can to turn away people who need protection. Belarus wants to gain political leeway and influence through these manufactured border crises. Unfortunately, the past has shown that this often works rather well".