VILNIUS – A direct flight from Iran to Minsk signals the beginning of new migrant flows, Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite has said.
“As far as we know, the first direct flight from Iran to Minsk will be carried out today, which means a new beginning of migrant flows and a further increase in risks,” she said before the government’s meeting on Wednesday.
The minister added that, despite the current absence of irregular migrant flows, the assessment of risks implied that it was necessary to get ready and allocate resources for the management of potential risks.
“I take that very seriously, as a new threat, and therefore now see no room for discussion that we could give up some measures or change our stance,” Bilotaite stressed.
A total of 607 irregular migrants have been barred from entering Lithuania from Belarus at non-designated places so far this year. Some 11,200 irregular migrants were turned away in 2022.
Lithuanian border guards have prevented more than 19,900 people from crossing in from Belarus since August 3, 2021, when they were given the right to turn away irregular migrants. The number includes repeated attempts by the same people to cross the border.
The State Border Guard Service (SBGS) says that illegal migration to Lithuania and the EU is being facilitated by Belarusian officials.
Almost 4,200 irregular migrants crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally in 2021. However, the vast majority of them fled Lithuania once they were allowed to move freely.
Asked about a call by a UN committee for Lithuania to ensure the right for all migrants to apply for asylum and to consider their situation on a case-by-case basis, the minister stated that she remained firm in her stance on the existing policy of turning away migrants at the border.
“I think the entire region should follow similar legal regulation because, as we say, if there are loopholes in that chain, it means it is convenient to continue exerting that pressure,” she said.
Earlier this month, the Seimas of Lithuania started deliberating amendments to the Law on the State Border and the Guard Thereof and the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens, which would consolidate the existing policy of turning away migrants at the border, which has so far been carried out on the basis of Interior Minister Bilotaite's order.
The amendments have already drawn criticism from NGOs saying that the government is proposing only formal changes to the provisions that run counter to EU directives and fails to address the problems identified by the European Court of Justice.
Following an influx of migrants from Belarus, Lithuania, acting on the interior minister's order, started turning away illegal migrants in 2021.