Immigration Becoming a Major Issue

The Lithuanian government declared a state-level emergency situation on July 2 over the influx of migrants. Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė was appointed head of emergency state operations. She said the decision was necessary not due to increased threats, but to facilitate decisions on logistics, funding and other matters. The minister noted that it is not a challenge that cannot be dealt with, but it is essential to have legal, technical and logistical instruments in  place in order to make swift decisions in response to the challenges.

Earlier in the day, the State Border Guard Service proposed declaring a state-level emergency after border guards detained 150 irregular migrants in one day, three times more than the previous record. (A total of 81 irregular migrants were detained in 2020, with 46 in 2019, and 104 in 2018.) The government’s emergency commission later backed the proposal.

Emergency status allows the mobilization of additional forces, facilitates public procurement procedures, and obliges municipalities to provide accommodation for the migrants.

Illegal migrants

The minister has ordered the construction of a tent camp for more than 1,000 people.

“This issue is not limited just to tents, it also involves logistics, catering and hygiene,” she added. All institutions of the Ministry of the Interior would be involved in efforts to ensure the population’s safety.

The Ministry of the Interior will ensure full protection and involve all its institutions – the police, border guards, public security officers – for this purpose and will also request the assistance of the Riflemen’s Union. The minister also said that the appropriate authorities are making decisions on additional infrastructure for accommodating migrants, which included a number of modular houses that would be built by July 28 and the hangars under construction in the municipality of Druskininkai.

Border guards detained nearly 280 irregular migrants over the weekend, 116 on Saturday and 160 on Sunday, the State Border Guard Service (VSAT) reported. Most of them crossed the Lithuanian border in the municipality of Druskininkai. Another 134 migrants were reported on July 5. A total of 1,232 irregular migrants have been detained by border guards in Lithuania so far this year.

Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė

Lithuanian officials believe that Belarusian authorities are involved in trafficking migrants. Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė said on July 2 that she believed that the influx from Belarus was the Minsk government’s revenge for the European Union’s sanctions.

Most of the migrants detained by Lithuanian border guards so far this year are citizens of Iraq and Syria. However, a number of people from African countries were stopped over the weekend, claiming to be students of Belarusian universities, says Antanas Motvidas, deputy director of Lithuania’s State Border Guard Service (VSAT). “We have information from initial interviews that these individuals were studying in Grodno schools. Tuition fees were raised and they were expelled from the schools for not paying the fees,” Montvidas announced on July 5.

According to him, these migrants said they were citizens of Egypt, Gambia, Senegal, Togo, Congo, Ivory Coast, and Benin. The migrants told Lithuanian officers that they were evicted from university dormitories by Belarusian police officers, forcing them to travel to Lithuania, Montvidas said, adding that the claims still needed corroboration. “The conclusion we draw is that Belarusian institutions are enabling irregular migration from Belarus to Lithuania.”

Lithuania is now looking to cut asylum request processing time to 10 days amid the growing influx of immigrants, Minister Agnė Bilotaitė announced on July 5. The process now takes longer, because many migrants have no documents, refuse to identify themselves and provide information about their country of origin, she added. Lithuanian officials are now consulting their Greek counterparts, according to Bilotaitė. Lithuanian delegations are also going to Iraq and Turkey this week to discuss the return of migrants.

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