Lithuania Opens New Camp For Migrants From Belarus As Belarusian-Lithuanian Relations Worsen

Lithuania plans to open a new camp for illegal migrants coming from Belarus. According to a Reuters report, the camp would house 500 migrants at the site of an old school building in Dieveniskes, a town located along the Belarusian-Lithuanian border. The camp would relieve some stress off of Lithuania, as the country struggles with a record surge of illegal migrants. Of the 1,676 migrants coming from Belarus this year, around 1,057 entered Lithuania in July alone, as reported by Lithuania’s border guard service.

The announcement of the new camp comes just weeks after Lithuania accused Belarus of flying in foreign migrants and sending them to cross into Lithuania illegally. Months earlier, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced that he would flood the European Union with drugs and migrants to put pressure on the bloc. Belarus, which is not a member of the E.U., has been facing E.U.-imposed sanctions, in addition to a major backlash from Western nations, in response to its most controversial actions.

E.U. relations with Belarus worsened after the 2020 Belarusian presidential elections, which saw the re-election of President Lukashenko. The elections were deemed unfair and unfree by much of the international community. Soon, tensions escalated further in May after President Lukashenko ordered Ryanair Flight 4978 to divert off its path to Vilnius, Lithuania, and instead land in Minsk, Belarus. The diversion was called for due to a fake bomb threat, which allowed Belarusian authorities to arrest Belarusian journalist and opposition activist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega. 

Belarusian-Lithuanian relations have been getting tense in recent months. Lithuania has been increasingly critical of President Lukashenko and strongly supported E.U. sanctions on Belarus. In recent years, many Belarusian opposition activists and dissidents, including Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who ran against President Lukashenko in the 2020 elections, have sought refuge in Lithuania for protection. After the Ryanair Flight 4978 incident, Lithuania banned all flights passing through Belarusian airspace. Now, the migrant crisis brought about by Belarus has overwhelmed Lithuania, causing the country’s leaders to call for a state of emergency back in early July.

In response to the influx of illegal migrants entering the country, Lithuania began constructing a 320-mile razor-wire barrier along the Belarusian-Lithuanian border. According to Reuters, the barrier will then be reinforced by a taller border fence, reaching around 6.5 feet tall. The whole project is estimated to cost around 45.9 million euros.

Lithuania has also been setting up camps for the migrants, including the most recent one planned for 500 people. Lina Laurinaityte, the Lithuanian interior ministry spokeswoman, expressed hopes that the new project would succeed, stating that “The remoteness [of the camp] makes it easier to ensure the safety of people and the migrants.”

While an additional camp might offer some temporary relief to Lithuania as authorities figure out their next steps, it certainly cannot serve as the final solution to the migrant crisis. It is also not certain that the migrants being held at the new camp will receive the humane treatment they need. In Lithuania’s existing camps, migrants are held in unsanitary and packed conditions. Reuters reported that the country’s main migrant camp in Pabrade is currently full, forcing smaller sites to be set up near the Belarusian-Lithuanian border. Judging by the scenes in Lithuania’s existing migrant camps, this new camp may not be any better for the incoming migrants.

The migrant crisis in Lithuania is difficult because it is being exacerbated by the growing tensions between Lithuania and Belarus. The influx of illegal migrants into Lithuania is most likely a political move on the part of Belarus, which is trying to get back at Lithuania and the E.U. for imposing sanctions. In the midst of this political mess, the lives of migrants are at stake, as they are being detained in poor conditions in Lithuania’s camps. The new camp must provide a comfortable and liveable experience for the detained migrants. However, strained relations between Lithuania, the E.U., and Belarus must be resolved. Diplomatic talks must resume ending the migrant crisis, as well as other issues that have resulted from this ongoing feud.

Muna Khalidi