The European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, announced that they would increase police intervention in the Lithuania-Belarus frontier, on the 29th of July, in response to a substantial increase in migrants crossing the border illegally. The rise in E.U. intervention includes extended surveillance, the deployment of more guards, and the stationing of police vehicles. This decision came out of a recent spike in migrants, despite Lithuania pushing for stricter border control since June. According to BBC News, the Prime Minister of Lithuania has stated that more than 1,000 migrants have been held for illegally crossing the border since the 1st of June.
As of mid-July, Lithuania has begun building a razor-wire fence along the border. Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis explained it “should discourage the people that the border is not open, that it’s not a legal way to cross it,” in an interview with National Public Radio. Executive Director of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, stated in a recent update that “The situation at Lithuania’s border with Belarus remains worrying. I have decided to send a rapid border intervention to Lithuania to strengthen the E.U.’s external border.” He went on to detail future intervention, saying, “We will reinforce our assistance and send additional border guards, patrol cars and specialized officers for conducting interviews with migrants to gather information on criminal networks involved. This is E.U. solidarity in action.”
According to Lithuanian officials, the situation at the border goes deeper than increasing migrants; they believe it’s a result of recent political tensions between the E.U. and Belarus. In May 2021, the European Council announced that they would be issuing economic sanctions on Belarus in response to human rights violations and political oppression by the Belarusian government. Economic sanctions have taken a significant toll on E.U.-Belarusian relations, and Belarus was quick to retaliate by suspending its participation in the E.U.’s Eastern Partnership, ensuring friendly ties between the E.U. and its Eastern neighbours. Now, Lithuanian officials believe that the refugees are being used as “political weapons,” caught in between E.U.-Belarusian tensions.
On the 26th of May, 2021, after the economic sanctions imposed by the E.U., the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko stated that he would no longer stop migrants from crossing the border into the E.U.: “we used to catch migrants in droves here — now, forget it, you will be catching them yourselves,” he stated. Lithuania is one of the three E.U. member nations bordering Belarus. The other two countries, Poland and Latvia, have also reported a massive increase in illegal migrants from Belarus in the last month.
The European Union and the Lithuanian Prime Minister have openly condemned the weaponization of refugees and are currently strengthening border control. According to Euronews, with the influx of migrants occurring so rapidly, the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Joseph Borrell stated that “to use migrants as a weapon, pushing people against the borders, is unacceptable… the E.U. should consider expanding economic sanctions that were imposed on Belarus.” However, both the E.U. and Belarusian officials must agree that many refugees seek asylum but are wrongfully used as pawns in a political crossfire. The Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gabrielius Landsbergis, told the National Public Radio that the refugees are applying for political asylum. Still, he said, “I don’t think that this is working the way they expect it since it’s very difficult for them to prove that they are actually people seeking political asylum.”
With more than 2,400 migrants illegally entering Lithuania from Belarus in only the last two months, Frontex has announced that border control will rapidly increase in the coming days. E.U. member nations have also stated that they will support Lithuania in urgent measures to protect its border by providing razor wire to complete the fence. Soon, while increasing security measures on the wall will help bring the rapid influx of migrants under control, the Belarusian government and the E.U. must put political agendas aside to avoid escalating the crisis, which could put the refugee’s lives at risk.
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