Lithuanian border guards have started halting new arrivals at its border with Belarus
Lithuanian border guards have started halting new arrivals at its border with Belarus

Belarus' plans to shut parts of its border to halt migrants from re-entering the country has raised the ire of the EU. Brussels said migrants are not a political weapon.

The European Union has summoned Belarus' representative in Brussels, after accusing Minsk of using migrants as political tools.

"These practices must stop and Belarus must respect its international commitments in combating irregular migration and human trafficking and migrant smuggling," a European Commission spokesperson told a news conference.

The European External Affairs Service, the bloc's diplomatic service, said officials "conveyed the EU's strong concerns and clear position that the instrumentalization of migrants and refugees is utterly unacceptable."

Lithuania claims Belarus has created a deliberate refugee crisis on its border by allowing migrants to travel towards the EU. Belarus then bars them from returning, in a move viewed as retaliation for EU sanctions on Minsk.

What we know so far

Lithuania has reported a marked increase of illegal border crossings and has accused the Belarusian government of bringing migrants to the border area.

Over the past few weeks, several hundred migrants have crossed into Lithuania. The EU border agency Frontex has dispatched additional personnel to help stem the tide.

Brussels has accused Minsk of allowing this to happen. President Alexander Lukashenko had openly threatened to allow refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East to enter the bloc, in retaliation for sanctions.

Those EU sanctions were imposed because of human rights abuses and violent repression of civil society.

Belarus to shut border with Lithuania

On Thursday, President Lukashenko said Belarus plans to close portions of its border with Lithuania.

"From today, no one will be allowed to cross the border from any side, neither from the south nor from the west," he said, according to state agency Belta.

Lukashenko's latest move is believed to be an attempt to stop the EU from returning migrants sent into the bloc.

Lithuanian border guards have started to stop new arrivals at its border with Belarus. Iraq, whose citizens primarily comprise the migrants involved in the crossings, has also being urged to bar flights heading to Minsk.

kb/rs (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

First published: August 5, 2021

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