Latvia, Lithuania take emergency action over Belarus border

A view of Lithuanian and Belarus border in Kapciamiestis, Lithuania, 19 July 2021. [Stringer/EPA/EFE]

Latvia on Tuesday (10 August) declared a local state of emergency along its border with Belarus, as Lithuanian lawmakers approved the construction of a fence to stem an influx of illegal migrants.

In the past 24 hours, about 200 migrants have crossed over from Belarus into Latvia, an EU and NATO member state of 1.9 million people.

“The emergency regime means that the border between Latvia and Belarus will be practically closed to everybody,” Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said after the cabinet approved the emergency to last from Wednesday until 10 November.

Lithuania: Official entities participate in Belarus human trafficking

Official entities, such as airlines and tourist agencies, are involved in organised human trafficking via Belarus and should face sanctions, Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

In neighbouring Lithuania, parliament on Tuesday passed a law giving the green light to the construction of a fence along its border with Belarus.

The law gives the project a high national priority that eases certain restrictions, such as rules on tenders, according to the BNS agency.

“We must have a strong and reliable border with Belarus… as soon as possible,” Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said, noting that the law would halve construction time for the €152 million barrier.

Brussels has accused Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko of deliberately encouraging new unauthorised arrivals of mainly Iraqi migrants in retaliation for increasingly tough sanctions against his regime.

Lithuania, which has offered strong support and refuge to the Belarusian opposition, began turning back migrants this week after more than 4,000 people entered the country from Belarus since the beginning of the year.

Poland, which also shares a border with Belarus, has reported 349 migrants arriving since Friday.

Poland says Belarus lets migrants cross its border in 'hybrid war' with EU

Poland accused Belarus of sending a growing number of migrants over the border in retaliation for Warsaw’s decision this week to give refuge to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian athlete who refused to return home from the Tokyo Olympics.

Also on Tuesday, the EU said there had been a “significant decrease” in migrant crossings after Iraq suspended flights to Belarus following requests from the EU and Lithuania.

European Union ministers are to discuss the issue next week.

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