“We are no longer going to prevent migrants from crossing Belarus. After all, they are heading towards a bright, warm and comfortable Europe, ”the Belarusian dictator Alexander Loukachenko promised in early July.
Menacingly, the statement came shortly after a series of European Union sanctions against his regime. Since then, around 4,000 foreigners have entered the European Union illegally across the border with Lithuania.
The flow is at least 40 times greater than that of those who entered during the whole of last year. Traffic hit a record high last Sunday: 289 were stopped in a single day by patrols.
“Using migrants as a weapon, pushing people against borders, is unacceptable”, reacted the head of Foreign Affairs of the European Union, Josep Borrell.
“It is an act of severe aggression intended to provoke”, declared the European Commissioner in charge of immigration, Ilva Johansson, visiting Lithuania on Monday (2).
The central organs of the European Union are already starting to worry about the possibility that the crisis will extrapolate the Baltic country and come back to undermine the policy of the bloc.
In a different response to the 2015 immigration crisis, when it condemned members like Hungary for banning foreigners from coming from Serbia, the Commission approved Lithuania’s plan to erect a four-meter fence. high along the 679 km border with Belarus.
The Lithuanian government maintains that these are not war refugees, like six years ago, but economic immigrants, and is trying to contain the situation by promoting a campaign of deterrence.
In Arabic, Kurdish and English, he sends the message that he will not allow passage from his territory to other countries and warns that none of the 132 asylum requests filed to date have been granted.
Last month, the Baltic country’s parliament tightened its asylum policy further, preventing applicants from leaving refugee camps and allowing deportation if there is no resolution within six months.
But Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte does not rule out asking other EU members to welcome immigrants if the situation escalates. “We have succeeded so far, but we are at the limit of our possibilities,” the director of the border guard service, Rustamas Liubajevas, told LRT radio.
One sign of this limit was the rebellion earlier this week at Rudninkai, a military training camp turned into a refugee camp for those arriving from southern Lithuania – two-thirds of them from Iraq .
The protest began in wet tents and was animated by complaints about living conditions. Several attempted to flee and were confined with water cannons and tear gas by Lithuanian troops.
Already difficult, conditions will be worse in winter (from December to March in the northern hemisphere), which worries the local government. An 800-person refugee camp set up last week is already packed, and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis says he fears up to 10,000 new arrivals before September.
Lukashenko denies taking part in the influx of foreigners and has said he will not welcome them again. “People are fleeing west because of pain, misery and war, and they want us to imprison them here in ‘filter fields’. It will not happen.”
On the side of the European institutions and neighboring governments, there is no lack of evidence of Belarusian participation in the device, in particular images taken by a drone, published on the Internet by Lithuania, which show people leaving Belarus and crossing the border under escort. of a vehicle identical to that used by the Belarusian guard.
Foreigners pay 10,000 to 15,000 dollars (from 53,000 to 79,000 R $) to try to enter the European bloc, explains analyst Joanna Hyndle-Hussein, a specialist in the Baltic countries who reported on the crisis of immigration at the Center for Oriental Studies, Poland.
According to her, the dictatorship facilitates the issuance of tourist visas, often under the pretext of offering vaccination against Covid-19. In Belarus, travel agencies are responsible for getting groups to the border and the guard facilitates their passage.
The number of weekly Iraqi Airways flights to Minsk has increased from 4 to 8, arriving not only from Baghdad but also from Basra, Suleimania and Erbil. From Istanbul, 24 weekly flights depart to Belarus.
Residents of Minsk and towns between the capital and the Lithuanian border also told Folha that they believed there was an organized effort to bring foreigners into the country and take them to the neighboring country.
“In recent weeks, an unusual frequency of clients from the Middle East is evident,” says economist Kristina (who has requested that her last name not be released, for security reasons), who usually holds meetings of the work at the Planeta hotel, in the center region of the capital city.
In Lida, a town of 100,000 inhabitants 20 minutes from the Lithuanian border, hotels, motels and military camps were occupied by Asian and African immigrants, said Irina, a retired civil servant.
About 40% are people in need of special protection and there are 400 children among immigrants who have already entered Lithuania, according to the Red Cross.
Joanna says that, on the one hand, Lukashenko sees these actions as retaliation for Lithuania’s support for Belarusian opposition: the main opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaia, is in exile in the neighboring country. “On the other hand, he is trying to persuade the EU to enter into dialogue with his regime,” adds the analyst.
For the moment, the response of the European bloc has been the opposite. Frontex (the European Border Guard Agency) sent equipment and men on patrol and promised to place 200 agents in Lithuania — so far only Greece had received this kind of aid.
The EU is also seeking to help finance the construction of the border fence, has pledged to step up diplomatic talks with the Iraqi government in an attempt to reduce the number of flights to Minsk, and has said it will not rule out new sanctions.
Four rounds of restrictions have already been imposed by the European Union since last year, to pressure Lukashenko to end the crackdown on those who demand his resignation and release hundreds of political prisoners – the bill has reached 605 Tuesday (3), according to human organization rights Viasna.
The latest sanctions came after the dictatorship intercepted a commercial flight to arrest a blogger critical of his regime, Roman Protassevich, at the end of May.
But if the analyst from the Polish center is right, Lukashenko achieves at least one of the two objectives, that of revenge: the arrival of immigrants is already causing an internal crisis in Lithuania.
Nationalist politicians promote an anti-immigration campaign on social media and organize protests outside parliament and government buildings across the country. There is also a reaction in the cities where foreigners are accommodated.