Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte has warned that the Baltic nation may continue to experience a "sudden" surge of migrants due to efforts by Belarus to flood it with people from third countries.
Vilnius and the EU have accused Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka of organizing migrant smuggling to punish the Baltic nation for its vocal support of Belarus’s democratic opposition.
On a visit to Athens on July 15, Simonyte said there were "20 times" more people who crossed the border so far this year when compared with 2020 or 2019.
So far this year, Lithuania has detained more than 1,700 migrants arriving from Belarus, compared with 81 for all of 2020. In July alone, 1,100 migrants crossed from Belarus into Lithuania.
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.
While the actual numbers may pale in comparison to what some EU countries face, "what is frightening is the trend," she told reporters after talks with her Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
"We were never on the [migration] route...of people trying to get to the European Union, so this is a little bit sudden," Simonyte said,
Lithuania has been one of the staunchest critics of Lukashenka, calling for a robust EU response against his regime.
The Baltic country has also become a center for the Belarusian opposition led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya since Lukashenka’s regime launched a crackdown following last August’s disputed election.
Mitsotakis called the migrant flows an "orchestrated effort" by Belarus to pressure its neighbor, adding what Minsk is doing "is simply unacceptable."
Simonyte was in Athens to discuss Greece’s experience handling migrants since the 2015 refugee crisis, including establishing reception facilities, speeding up asylum procedures, and how to return those not entitled to international legal protection.
Earlier this month, Lithuania announced plans to open a camp to house migrants and a fence began to be erected along the border with Belarus.
While the prime minister was in Greece, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis visited Iraq in order to get the government to clamp down on the alleged smuggling of Iraqi migrants to Lithuania via Minsk.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein pledged to investigate "the plan to smuggle Iraqis into Europe.”
"We will not accept smugglers in our society," he said. "It's our duty to protect our citizens, whether they be inside or outside the country."
Landsbergis accused Belarus of using Iraqis “to pressure my country and the European Union.”
“We feel Iraqis are being promised an easy trip to Europe and they end up in the forest," Landsbergis said.
"They were lied to [by smugglers] and spent a lot of money.... There's a mutual need to stop this network of illegal migration," he added.