RIGA - Migrant traffic to Latvia organized by Belarusian authorities has been increasing again in recent weeks, State Border Guard chief Guntis Pujats told the Saeima Defense, Interior and Corruption Prevention Committee on Wednesday.
Considering increased illegal immigration pressure, the Latvian government has declared a state of emergency in the municipalities of Ludza, Kraslava and Augsdaugava, as well as in Daugavpils. The state of emergency has been effective in these border areas for more than a year already and was last extended to February 10, 2023.
Pujats informed lawmakers that border guards have observed a very high involvement of Belarusian authorities in organizing the cross-border traffic of illegal migrants. Furthermore, Belarusian border guards have been seen carrying unusual weapons like sniper rifles and machine guns.
Last year, Latvian border guards prevented 4,045 attempts to illegally enter Latvia from Belarus and detained 446 persons, most of them before the state of emergency was introduced. Of the detained persons, 59 voluntarily left Latvia, most of them for Iraq. Meanwhile, 421 people escaped from the asylum seekers' center, which in Pujats' opinion is an indication that these migrants had no intention to stay in Latvia. Migrants also often feigned illness to get into EU territory.
This year, border guards have prevented 4,057 persons from illegally entering Latvia from Belarus, and detained 141 persons after letting them to cross the border for humanitarian considerations.
According to Pujats, the migrant traffic has been coming in waves, with the most difficult situation seen in January. The pressure was basically targeting Lithuania, which chose the tactic not to let the migrants in, so the flow of migrants split, with some heading to Latvia and some attempting to get to Poland.
In recent weeks, the number of migrants being directed to Latvia has been growing again and is now higher than the number of migrant moving towards Lithuania. In all, 178 persons tried to illegally enter Latvia last week, up from 71 a week before. Also, 42 persons tried to illegally cross the border in the last 24 hours, which is the highest number recorded in recent weeks.
The chief of the State Border Guard warned that preventing migrants from entering Latvia will become more difficult in the winter. It is also necessary to take into consideration protests in Iran and Russia's close ties with this Middle Eastern country, which might increase the number of Iranians coming to Europe.