Photos by Lithuanian authorities capture the ongoing crisis on the country's border after Belarus ended cooperation with the European Union to stem illegal migration.
This is one of several images Lithuania’s border police provided to RFE/RL illustrating the surge in illegal crossings into the European Union in recent days.
The migrant influx began after Belarus was hit with EU sanctions over the violent repression of anti-government protesters following a disputed presidential election claimed by longtime authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka in August. Further sanctions came after Belarus's diversion of an international flight and arrest of two of its passengers, a dissident Belarusian journalist and his Russian girlfriend, in May.
Belarus's Foreign Ministry responded to the sanctions by announcing on June 28 that it would suspend an agreement with the EU aimed at stemming illegal immigration. "Before, we stopped drugs and migrants. Now you will eat this and catch them yourself," Lukashenka said.
Lithuania’s State Border Guard said 150 people were caught illegally crossing into Lithuania from Belarus on July 1 alone. That is more than the total number over the past two years combined.
So far in 2021, 822 illegal migrants have tried to enter Lithuania from Belarus.
Many of the recent detainees have no documentation, but 428 claim to be Iraqis. Fifty-one said they are from Iran and 45 from Syria. Belarusians, Turks, Russians, and others have also crossed into Lithuania illegally this year.
A spokesman for Lithuania's State Border Guard Service told RFE/RL that "most migrants we detained recently [crossing illegally into Lithuania] arrived [at] Belarus's Minsk airport via direct flights from Istanbul and Baghdad" and made their way to Lithuania's 680 kilometer-long border.
The spokesman added: "Information regarding their travels from Minsk to the Lithuanian border is known to our intelligence and won’t be disclosed due to the fact that this is part of [an ongoing] investigation."
Lithuania's border authorities say that, while they once cooperated closely with their Belarusian counterparts to stop illegal immigration into the EU, the agency currently "does not identify any interest of the competent authorities of the Republic of Belarus to act in this field."
Paval Latushka, a former Belarusian culture minister who is now a leading opposition figure, told Euronews he has "almost no doubts" the massive influx is being directly organized by Belarusian authorities.
A spokesman for Frontex, the EU's border-guard service, told RFE/RL the agency will send reinforcements to Lithuania and Latvia "starting in July." EU members Latvia and Poland, which both share borders with Belarus, have not reported an uptick in illegal crossings. It is unclear why Lithuania is bearing the brunt of the influx, though many believe it is related to Lithuania's strong support for the Belarusian opposition. A Latvian border police representative told RFE/RL on July 2 that so far this year just one illegal entry from Belarus was recorded.