Lithuania says neighboring Belarus is flying in migrants from abroad to send across the border into the EU country and warns that it will build a barrier on the border and deploy the military to prevent the move.
Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on May 26 that his country would no longer prevent migrants from crossing its western border into the European Union.
Lukashenka has allegedly allowed migrants to cross into Lithuania in response to sanctions imposed by the bloc after Minsk forced a Ryanair flight to land on its soil and arrested opposition blogger Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega, his Russian girlfriend.
Lithuania has been one of the staunchest critics of Lukashenka, calling for a robust EU response against his regime. On July 5, Lithuania granted the Belarusian democratic opposition led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya official status in the EU country.
Hundreds of people, mostly Iraqis, have been crossing in recent days, Lithuania says. The Foreign Ministry summoned the head of the Belarusian Embassy on July 7 to demand that Minsk end the flow of illegal migrants.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said Belarus had been offering migrants flights to Minsk, citing documents found on at least one migrant who had reached Lithuania.
"There are travel agencies, direct flights that connect Minsk with Baghdad for example, and there are agencies both in Belarus and other countries that operate and attract 'tourists' to Minsk," Simonyte told Reuters in Vilnius on July 7.
Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said late on July 2 that the government had declared a state of emergency, and he accused Lukashenka of seeking "to weaponize migration to weaken our resolve for sanctions."
Simonyte said Lithuania would increase patrols and build a barrier.
"We will begin building an additional physical barrier, which divides Lithuania and Belarus, which would be a certain sign and a certain deterrent to organizers of the illegal migration flows," she told a news conference on July 7.
She also said the country, a Schengen free-travel area member, was considering imposing border controls with neighboring EU countries to stop migrants traveling to Western countries in the bloc.
A total of 779 illegal migrants crossed the Belarusian-Lithuanian border in the first seven days of July, compared with 636 during the first six months of the year, according to the border guard office. Lithuania received no more than 104 migrants annually from 2018 to 2020.