Vilnius (dpa) – The EU has made serious allegations against Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko for the sharp rise in the number of migrants at Lithuania’s EU external border and wants to further strengthen protective measures.
What the EU is dealing with is not primarily a migration crisis, but an “act of aggression” by the Lukashenko regime, said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson on the sidelines of talks in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius . This is “absolutely unacceptable”.
More than 2000 illegal border crossings in July
Johansson had traveled to the Baltic EU country to get a sense of the situation and to discuss next steps with government representatives. More than 2,000 illegal border crossings by people from countries such as Iraq or African states were recorded last year on the nearly 680-kilometer-long border between Lithuania and Belarus, after just 81 in the entire year before.
According to the EU, the increase in numbers was deliberately brought about by the government of the neighboring country. In the past, Lukashenko had openly threatened to let people through from countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria in response to EU sanctions imposed on his country.
In Germany too, there are now concerns about the developments – especially because it is feared that many of the people arriving in Lithuania may try to get further west.
Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) and his Austrian counterpart Karl Nehammer therefore spoke at the end of last week for extensive support for Lithuania in the field of border security. “It would be fatal if we limit funding only to the care and housing of migrants already in the country,” they noted.
For $3,000 to Germany
According to Lithuanian media research, most migrants are drawn to Germany. According to a report from the internet portal 15min.lt, the journey from Iraq to the Federal Republic of Germany, which starts with a legal flight to Minsk – if all goes well – will cost a total of about $3,000 (about 2,500 euros).
It is unlikely that the situation will be brought under control quickly. Lithuania has recently tightened its asylum rules due to the influx of migrants and has started to put up a fence at the border. Because there is no barbed wire, construction of the border barrier eventually came to a halt. Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite recently put the cost of securing the border at up to half a billion euros.
That is why we are now talking about stronger support from the EU. During a visit to the border, Johansson made it clear that she also saw the need to protect the Lithuanian EU external border with reinforced “physical barriers”. At the same time, she pointed out that the EU is already helping in many other areas. According to her, more than 100 border guards from the EU border security agency Frontex will support the work of local forces in the future.
EU threatens sanctions
On Friday, the EU threatened those responsible in Belarus with sanctions. “The EU and its Member States condemn the instrumentalization of migrants and refugees by the Belarusian regime,” said a statement by the EU’s representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell. The possibility of restrictive measures against smugglers and other persons involved in human trafficking is under investigation.
The EU has responded to the repression of civil society and democratic opposition in the country with the existing sanctions against Belarus. This includes the illegal arrest of blogger Roman Protassewitsch, who is critical of the government from an EU perspective. Authorities in Belarus had forced a passenger plane en route from Athens to Vilnius in Lithuania to a stopover in Minsk to accommodate the young man.
Lithuania is one of the leading advocates of the democracy movement in the neighboring country internationally and has long been a haven for the Belarusian opposition. The EU country has welcomed many members of the opposition, including opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya.
The most far-reaching sanctions to date have been economic sanctions, mainly targeting state-owned companies. These are companies that make money with petroleum products, potash fertilizers and goods for the manufacture of tobacco products.
In view of the sanctions, Lukashenko said: “We prepared for it, we knew what was threatening us.” And at the same time he threatened: “We have to show these bastards on the other side of the border that their sanctions are their own impotence.”
Johansson admitted in her press conference with Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte on Monday that the measures taken so far have not yielded much. The situation is deteriorating, she says.