The Belarusian authorities are reportedly using illegal immigration and refugees from Iraq and Syria as a hybrid weapon against neighboring nation Lithuania, according to the country’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis.
The official told the Financial Times on Tuesday that a recent inflow of refugees is being masterminded by Belarus. According to Landsbergis, migrants are enticed with package deals through a state-owned tourist agency, which brings them to Minsk. The migrants are then taken to the country’s border, enabling them to move across the frontier and into the EU.
“This is weaponized migration that is directly aimed at Lithuania,” Landsbergis told the FT. “The reason? It’s quite easy to guess. We are outspoken, and we shelter the main opposition leaders.”
Minsk and Vilnius have been regularly squaring off in recent months, with Lithuania now the most common country of choice for Belarusian dissidents. They include opposition figure and former presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who now lives in Vilnius. Her senior adviser Franak Viacorka, who is also attached to NATO’s Atlantic Council, also lives in the country.
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According to Lithuanian publication Delfi, 387 illegal immigrants, mainly Iraqi citizens, have been detained while crossing into the country from Belarus in 2021. This is considerably higher than just 81 in the whole of last year.
Due to the increased inflow, Lithuania plans to set up a tent city in the border town of Pabrade, specifically to house illegal immigrants. It has also been proposed to install observation systems along the entire length of the border with Belarus. Current capabilities cover just 38% of the frontier.
In May, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to allow migrants and drugs to flood into the European Union if sanctions were placed on Minsk, noting that the country’s border force would stop checking those crossing the border.
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