Recently, in a blatant effort to retaliate against the European Union, Belarus opened its borders to allow migrants (who have fled to Belarus) to travel into Lithuania. On July 5th, the European Union formally condemned Belarus for assisting this illegal travel of migrants into Lithuania. According to EuroNews, the EU placed sanctions on Belarus after a forced landing of a Ryanair plane that was carrying, and resulted in the arrest of, journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega. The EU claims that sanctions are necessary given the incessant oppression and human rights violations in Belarus. Not pleased with their response, however, Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian authoritarian leader, is pressuring the EU — specifically Lithuania — by sending migrants into the EU. There have been questions about whether this has been deliberate on Belarus’s part, but given the sharp uptick in numbers of migrants and the timing of this influx, it is obvious that Belarus is coordinating efforts of migrants traveling into the EU.
Lithuania’s deputy interior minister Arnold Abramavicius stated that, “[Lithuania is] catching groups every night. The number is growing. Pressure is growing on the border guards and institutions dealing with asylum procedures. It’s very clear that Belarus is targeting Lithuania.” This is understandably a difficult situation for Lithuania, as any country only has a certain number of resources to support a population. That said, ideally, while placing sanctions on Belarus, the EU could provide financial support to Lithuania to help the country accommodate these migrants so that there is at least temporary relief for them.
Belarus has had a long, complicated history with the EU: the EU sees Belarus in connection to Russia and continuously places sanctions on Belarus for its human rights violations and ongoing oppression. Belarus, on the other hand, is suspicious of the power of the EU and the West, and they only seek out help from the EU when they are not on good terms with Russia. Lukashenko does not actually seek EU approval; thus the EU is merely only ever used for support in Russia’s absence. Furthermore, many migrants travel to Belarus — mainly Iraqis, Iranians, and Syrians — often in hopes of eventually crossing the border into the EU, as reported by Reuters. Since Lukashenko and Belarus have been facilitating the movement of migrants into Lithuania, the EU member state has been met with a large influx of migrants that, as aforementioned, there are not enough resources or current infrastructure to support.
One of the fundamental problems with this issue is that Belarus is using the illegal travel of migrants as a pawn in its international affairs. This response to the EU by Belarus is therefore detrimental to peace in myriad ways: migrants could suffer from this later on — this may not be sustainable for their livelihoods if Lithuania cannot support them for the long term. It also only worsens the relationship between Belarus and the EU, which can anger both sides. The response by the EU to Belarus pressuring Lithuania this way is equally unhelpful. Sanctions have not historically worked to discipline Belarus, so there is little reason to believe they would now. Moreover, the EU’s response can also negatively implicate the migrants. The EU is responding to Belarus’s actions with only political interests in mind (protecting their member state, Lithuania), but neither are they accounting for the damage that can be done to migrants.
This conflict between the EU and Belarus does not look like it will end in the near future, so it is necessary for there to be temporary and long-term solutions that can accommodate migrants. It could be most beneficial to have an international organization, such as the UN, intervene to regulate the conflict and help establish some immediate peace between the parties.