VILNIUS – The government’s decision to terminate, from February, the state-owned railway company's Lietuvos Gelezinkeliai (Lithuanian Railways) contract with Belarus' potash giant Belaruskali on fertilizer transit may trigger an increase in the flows of migrants attempting to cross into Lithuania illegally from Belarus, Rustamas Liubajevas, commander of Lithuania's State Border Guard Service, has warned.
“We may get a certain response to the solution of this problem and may see more attempts to push migrants to Lithuania. That’s why we keep reinforced border controls in place and are assisted by other institutions, including the military and the police,” he told BNS on Friday.
Lithuanian border guards turned away 18 migrants attempting to cross into the country from Belarus illegally on Thursday, which was the largest daily number since the start of the year and followed three days of no recorded attempted illegal crossings from Belarus.
Nonetheless, Liubajevas emphasized that the situation on the border was stable at present.
“The [daily] number [of migrants] may look significant compared to previous days this year. However, those were just 18 persons and therefore we don’t dramatize the situation,” he said adding that “the situation has been stable thus far”.
According to publicly available data, approximately 1,000 migrants who could attempt crossing into Lithuania, Latvia or Poland were staying in Belarus at present, Liubajevas said.
“WORK BASICALLY REMAINS UNCHANGED”
Lithuania's state of emergency on the border with Belarus is set to expire at 12 midnight on Friday, as the tensions have abated.
This means that access to the border area will no longer be restricted as of Saturday, January 15. However, the previously declared extreme situation regime will remain in place after the state of emergency ends.
“Work will basically remain unchanged as the extreme situation regime stays in place,” Liubajevas said. “We will continue to carry out controls.”
In November, the parliament declared the state of emergency along the border stretch and five kilometers inland, as well as in the migrant accommodation facilities in Kybartai, Medininkai, Pabrade, Rukla and Vilnius.
Under the state of emergency, the movement of vehicles in the border area without border guards' permission was restricted, and entry into the area was banned, except for local residents as well as those having real estate there.
The authorities had the right to check vehicles and people, and their belongings, as well as seize illegally-possessed weapons, ammunition, explosives and other hazardous materials, and detain offenders. Gatherings were also banned in the areas under the state of emergency.
The measure included restricting the right of irregular migrants accommodated in Lithuania to communicate in writing or by telephone, etc., except to contact the country's authorities.
The government then asked the parliament to declare a state of emergency on the frontier with Belarus after thousands of migrants gathered on the Belarus side of the border with Poland and made attempts to force their way into the EU.
Border guards did not record any pro-active actions of law enforcement services on the Belarus side of the border at present, Liubajevas said.
“If we see any changes in the situation, there will certainly be a proposal to change the status,” he added.
More than 4,200 irregular crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally last year.
Lithuania and other Western countries accuse the Minsk regime of orchestrating the unprecedented migration influx, calling it "hybrid aggression".