VILNIUS – Some 6,000 to 7,000 migrants could be waiting to cross the EU's external border from Belarus, Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said on Wednesday, adding that the numbers keep changing.
"We have very different figures. The Polish services give one figure and our services give another. There could be around 6,000-7,000 people, but no one can say for sure today, because [...] new flights are being organized and the procedure for issuing all the permits is being simplified, which shows that the Lukashenko regime is not retreating," she said.
Later on Wednesday, the Lithuanian Cabinet is to discuss a package of amendments that will allow restricting migrants' freedom without a court order in certain cases once the six-month detention period provided for by law expires.
Under the amendments proposed by the Interior Ministry, if a migrant's asylum request is not processed by the end of the six-month period, they will not be subjected to movement restrictions unless they pose a security threat.
If there is a risk that a migrant might flee or pose a security threat, however, their detention could be extended.
"We propose that on the expiry of the six-month period, decisions should be taken for each migrant individually," Bilotaite said. "Taking into account the risk of flight or hiding and threats to national security, our authorities will be able to decide whether or not to extend the restriction of movement."
The Lithuanian Migration Department has already processed about a third of all asylum applications from irregular migrants, and about 300 people have been sent back to their countries of origin, according to the minister.
Lithuania's authorities have stepped up the processing of asylum applications, with 56 additional staff employed by the Migration Department and another 25 assigned for the work by the Foreign Ministry, she noted.
Almost 4,200 migrants, most Iraqi citizens, have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally so far this year. Vilnius accuses the Minsk regime of orchestrating the unprecedented migration influx, calling it "hybrid aggression"