Lithuania Declares Emergency Over Undocumented Migrants From Belarus

Lithuania declared an emergency after Belarus sent a flood of illegal migrants over the two countries’ border in protest at European Union sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime.

The tensions are part of a standoff between Brussels and Minsk that escalated in May when the former Soviet republic forced a Ryanair Holdings Plc jet to land there so the authorities could arrest an opposition journalist. The two sides were already at odds over Lukashenko’s victory in last year’s presidential election, which was widely deemed fraudulent and which triggered huge protests against his 27-year rule.

EU penalties over the vote -- and the crackdown on demonstrators that ensued -- were criticized as toothless. But the plane incident sparked measures targeting Belarus’s aviation sector and, more recently, its key industries. The tensions have left Lukashenko reliant on Russia’s Vladimir Putin for support.

On Friday, Lithuania said in a statement that it had declared an emergency situation to access reserve state financing, ease cooperation between government agencies tasked with tackling the crisis and allow accommodation to be made available for migrants currently being housed in tents.

The Baltic euro-area and NATO member has increased surveillance at the border in recent weeks as immigrant flows soared, and is awaiting assistance from the EU’s own border agency, Frontex, this month.

“We’ll bring more support through Frontex,” European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said Friday on a visit to Vilnius. “Your worries and your problems here in Lithuania are European worries and problems. We really stand by your side in this difficult time.”

The EU will also look at tapping emergency funds to assist Lithuania, Von der Leyen said.

Lukashenko threatened in a speech in May to send drugs and illegal migrants into the EU unchecked, with Lithuania a prime target as it’s become a temporary home for the president’s political rivals. The number of undocumented immigrants -- mostly from Iraq -- crossing from Belarus jumped to 822 through July 2 this year from 81 in the whole of 2020. Last night alone, 150 were detained.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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