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Lithuania Wants EU Sanctions On Belarus Over Migrant Inflow


Lithuanian border guards patrol the border with Belarus near the village of Purvenai. (file photo)

Lithuania says it has proposed that the European Union impose sanctions on Belarusian citizens and companies it says are helping migrants cross into the bloc.

In recent months thousands of migrants, many from Iraq and Afghanistan, have crossed from Belarus into Lithuania alone, but neighboring EU member states such as Poland and Latvia have also seen increases in illegal crossings.

Belarusian authorities have allegedly funneled migrants across the EU border, which Minsk has denied, in what EU officials called a "hybrid attack" on the bloc in retaliation for sanctions over authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka's crackdown on the country's pro-democracy movement following a disputed presidential election in August 2020.

Speaking on August 24 at a news conference in the border town of Medininkai, Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the Lithuanian government had presented the EU's External Action Service with a list of Belarusian citizens and companies "involved in illegal migrant flows."

"As soon as the institutions return from leave, it will be possible to start a debate on sanctions against these people and institutions," he said. "We need to send a very clear signal not only to Belarus, but also to any dictator who decides to use such an instrument against the European Union or any of its states that not only will it fail, but it will get back."

Landsbergis visited the border area along with Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite and Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, who told the same news conference that those responsible for the migrant inflow "must face strict sanctions."

The Lithuanian government plans to complete a 508-kilometer razor-wire fence along the border with Belarus by September 2022, at a cost of up to 152 million euros ($179 million).

Poland has also announced plans to build a similar fence on the border with Belarus.

During an August 24 visit to the border guards securing Poland's border with Belarus, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused his country’s eastern neighbor of "trying systematically, and in an organized way, to destabilize the political situation."

Morawiecki said the Polish government had knowledge of "advertisements" that encourage Iraqis to travel to Belarus. The Iraqis are then escorted to the border with Poland and "forced by Belarusian officers to cross the Belarus-Poland border," he added, without providing further details.

Warsaw has come under criticism from human rights advocates over the plight of some 30 migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere stuck at the border with Belarus for two weeks.

On August 24, Polish officials said an aid transport convoy carrying tents, blankets, power generators, and other items to help the migrants was waiting at the border for permission to enter Belarus.

Officials insist that the group will not be allowed into Poland, saying it would encourage further illegal migration and would play into Lukashenka's hands.

"While we acknowledge the challenges posed by recent arrivals to Poland, we call on the Polish authorities to provide access to territory, immediate medical assistance, legal advice, and psychosocial support to these people," Christine Goyer, the UN refugee agency's representative in Poland, said.

The European Commission, the EU's executive body, said it was closely monitoring developments at the border, and stressed the need for "orderly border management" and "full respect for migrants' fundamental rights."

"We firmly reject attempts to instrumentalize people for political purposes," spokesman Christian Wigand said in Brussels. "We cannot accept any attempts by third countries to incite or acquiesce in illegal migration" toward the EU.

In a joint statement issued on August 23, Poland and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania urged the United Nations to take action against Belarus, saying that "weaponizing refugees and immigrants threatens the regional security of the European Union and constitutes a grave breach of human rights."

With reporting by Reuters, BNS, and AP
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