Belarus: Expert discusses ‘influx’ of migrants to Lithuania
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Its foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said illegal border crossings from the rogue state could reach 10,000 by the end of summer. The area has emerged as a new front in the bloc’s migration crisis, with Lithuania now receiving the biggest number of migrants in Europe. Belarus has essentially opened the door to Europe and is not blocking would-be asylum seekers from illegally crossing into the EU.
It came after Brussels announced sanctions on President Alexander Lukashenko after he claimed victory in a contested election earlier this year.
On Sunday, some 270 people crossed into Lithuania in a single day.
Mr Landsbergis said: “To give you a comparison, last year we had about 80 illegal border crossings in an entire year.
“On Monday night, we crossed the threshold of 4,000 people so far this year.”
The Lithuanian foreign minister said, with a population of 2.8 million, “per capita we’re actually receiving the biggest number of migrants in Europe”.
Authorities have been forced to open new camps to house the arriving migrants, with existing ones already over capacity already.
Mr Landsbergis added: “On Thursday last week, we opened a new camp to house 800 people.
“By now, it is already full.”
But this has also infuriated local communities where the camps are being set up.
“They are protesting, and they are protesting really heavily,” the minister said.
“In many cases, police has to be involved.”
It was claimed that President Lukashenko’s regime has been allowing migrants from Iraq, Syria and African countries to travel to Belarus and onto Lithuania.
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There are already a number of direct flights from Iraq to Minsk, the Belarusian capital, and the list of arrivals is expected to grow with negotiations for visa liberalisation with Pakistan.
“That’s not the only case,” Mr Landsbergis said.
“We know that he’s approaching governments in Western Africa, Northern Africa in order to build new routes.
“So what we are seeing might just be the beginning.”
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Lithuania has predicted that as many as 10,000 people could arrive illegally from Belarus before the end of summer.
Mr Landsbergis added: “There is a possibility of having 10,000 people by the end of summer, or possibly even more.
“There are currently 24 flights to Minsk from Istanbul and eight flights from Baghdad each week.
“If you consider that these flights can transport up to 170 people, and if you fill all the seats with asylum seekers, the capacity is up to 6,000 people a week.
“Or even more because new flights from Erbil have been announced on Monday. So there is a possibility for Lukashenko to really up the ante.”
As a result of the growing number of arrivals, Lithuania has warned the EU: “This is not the 2015 migration crisis.”
Mr Landsbergis added: “This is not people fleeing war in Syria. This is actually a hybrid weapon, a political weapon one might say, that is being used to change the European policy.”
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