VILNIUS – Belarus' travel restrictions have created some risks for a "humanitarian corridor" that Lithuania opened for Belarusians last year, but people fleeing the regime will always find refuge in the country, Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said on Thursday.
"There is a risk to the humanitarian corridor, so solutions will be sought to help people persecuted by the regime," she told BNS in a comment.
Last year, Lithuania took steps to facilitate entry for Belarusians fleeing political persecution after the August presidential election triggered mass unrest the neighboring country.
Belarus' border guards have recently announced that only those holding permanent foreign residence permits will be allowed to leave the country, a move that Belarus' opposition says have made citizens "hostages in their own country".
However, Bilotaite said that Lithuania is not planning to suspend or review the procedure for granting entry to Belarusians on humanitarian grounds.
"Humanitarian entry permits are issued on a regular basis, and there are no plans to change or suspend this procedure," she said.
Lithuania has been raising and will continue to raise the issue of assistance to persecuted Belarusians "in all EU formats", according to the minister.
The Interior Ministry says a total of 818 Belarusian citizens have been allowed to come to Lithuania on humanitarian grounds since August 11, 2020. Some 384 people have arrived and 155 have applied for asylum.
Border guards note that the number of Belarusians crossing into Lithuania illegally has increased somewhat recently.
Fourteen Belarusian citizens were caught trying to illegally cross the Belarus-Lithuanian border between August 1 and December 31, 2020 and another 32 between January 1 and May 31, 2021, according to data provided by the State Border Guard Service (VSAT) on Wednesday.
"There is an increase, but this is not [...] an influx," VSAT spokesman Giedrius Misutis told BNS.
Lithuania also allows in national visa holders. The country issued over 9,600 national visas and almost 2,900 temporary residence permits to Belarus' citizens between January and May.
Currently, a total of 25,600 Belarusian citizens have the right to live in Lithuania, including 22,300 with temporary permits and the rest with permanent residence permits or cards of EU citizens' family members.
Flights from Belarus have been also restricted in the wake of the May 23 forced diversion by Alexander Lukashenko's regime of a passenger flight in Minsk.