Germany has again accused Minsk of using refugees as political tools as the European Union pledged to shore up the bloc's border with Belarus to stop a surge in illegal crossings.
In recent months Lithuania has seen a surge of mostly Iraqi migrants crossing into the EU country from neighboring Belarus. In recent weeks Latvia and Poland have witnessed a similar wave, prompting authorities in the EU member states to beef up their border security and start pushing back illegal migrants.
Poland, the Baltic states, and EU officials have said the migrant flows are being orchestrated by Minsk in retaliation for sanctions over his government's crackdown on the country's pro-democracy movement following a disputed presidential election in August 2020.
Authoritarian Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka "is using refugees, for example from Iraq, in a hybrid way to undermine security," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on August 17 at a news conference with the Estonian prime minister in Berlin amid growing concerns within the EU that thousands more migrants will seek to enter the bloc following the Taliban's seizure of power in Afghanistan.
"We are closely coordinating with our European partners on everything. We will also try to take a common position because this hybrid kind of confrontation, as used by Belarus, is an attack on all of us in the European Union," Merkel said.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
A draft statement from an extraordinary summit of EU interior ministers on August 17 says the bloc stands ready to provide additional border officers and funding to tackle the migrant surge on Lithuania's border with Belarus.
The document is subject to change until a final statement is released after the meeting.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda signed a decree on August 13 that calls for deploying members of the armed forces to the border to counter the increase in illegal migration.
The EU has said that it hopes for a stabilization of the situation after Iraq suspended flights from Baghdad to Minsk earlier this month.
Earlier this year, Lukashenka vowed to send drugs and migrants into Europe after the bloc imposed a new round of sanctions on Belarus because Minsk forced a Ryanair flight to land on its soil to arrest opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega, his Russian girlfriend.
Belarus and Lithuania, one of the staunchest critics of the authoritarian ruler, share a nearly 680-kilometer-long frontier that serves as an external border of the EU. Less than 40 percent of this frontier is monitored by electronic surveillance.
On August 17, Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said in a statement that border guards from Belarus entered Lithuania as they pushed dozens of migrants across the frontier into the EU member country.
"We cannot tolerate such brazen provocation when 12 Belarusian guards crossed the Republic of Lithuania's border today," Bilotaite said.
As of August 3, 4,026 individuals had illegally crossed into Lithuania from Belarus since January 1, compared with only 74 for all of last year.