Migration policy changes would prevent Belarus from abusing EU law – Lithuanian minister

  • 2021-10-15
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – Lithuania's proposed changes to the EU's migration policy would prevent Belarus from using the EU legal system against the country and the Lithuania and the bloc as a whole, Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said on Friday.  

Speaking after meeting with President Gitanas Nauseda in the run-up to next week's EU summit that is expected to discuss the matter, Bilotaite said that "Europe hears us, but it is also necessary to seek support at the highest level".

"The first thing we need is a physical barrier or a fence to be recognized as one of the important and necessary measures to protect the security of both national and EU external borders," Bilotaite told a news conference after the meeting.  

"The second thing we need is changes in EU law to allow member states to take appropriate action to protect their borders and to prevent countries like Belarus from using and abusing our legal system against us." 

"The president is now preparing for the European Council's meeting and we hope that together we will be able to achieve these changes and that concrete proposals to the European Commission will emerge from the European Council and will be implemented," she added.

The situation has revealed that the current migration policy and the accompanying legal framework "do not meet today's expectations" and that member states cannot take effective measures in the face of such hybrid attacks, according to Bilotaite.

The minister noted that she has initiated a joint letter to the European Commission by EU ministers supporting changes to migration policy. Concrete proposals set out in the letter are backed by 14 member countries, she said.

"I think this is a very clear signal that these changes are needed," she said.

The letter underlines the need to strengthen the protection of the EU's external borders, to provide European funding for the construction of a physical barrier at external borders and to prevent undemocratic regimes from abusing the bloc's asylum system. 

Bilotaite believes that Lithuania has succeeded in convincing the bloc that the wave of migrants that arrived in the summer "is not a normal migration crisis, but a hybrid attack against Lithuania and the European Union".

"Today all European institutions realize this", she said.

Among other issues, the EU summit, scheduled to take place in Brussels on October 21–22, will take stock of what has been done to tackle the migrant crisis triggered by Belarus. 

Lithuania, Latvia and Poland have been facing a drastic increase in illegal migration from Belarus since the summer.

Almost 4,200 migrants have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally so far this year. 

Both Lithuania and the EU accuse the Belarusian regime of orchestrating the migrant flows, calling it "hybrid aggression" in retaliation for the bloc's sanctions against Minsk for its crackdown on the opposition.