A child living in a migrant shelter in Lithuania has died. The 11-year old, which had pre-existing conditions, had crossed the border from Belarus two months ago together with her father.
According to the Baltic News Service (BNS) news agency citing the Ministry of Social Security and Labour in Vilnius, the preliminary cause of death was acute cardiopulmonary dysfunction, a medical term used to describe a range of serious disorders that affect the heart and lungs. The child reportedly died in hospital on Sunday (September 26).
"We are shocked by this loss," said Beatrice Bernotiene, head of the Refugee Reception Center in Lithuania's central Jonava district on Sunday afternoon, Lithuania's LRT broadcaster reported on Monday.
According to Bernotiene, the child had pre-existing health issues including paralysis and epilepsy. The child and the father had been housed at the facility since the beginning of August, after both were picked up at the Lithuanian-Belarusian border. The father told Lithuanian officers that the child had been disabled since suffering a head injury a year before in their home country, according to LRT.
On Sunday, LRT reported, a group of migrants staying at the said migrant accommodation facility staged a protest against "poor living conditions" without "serious disturbances or violence." The protest was not linked to the child's death, according to aid worker Bernotiene. Also on Sunday, LRT reported that Lithuanian authorities have "so far processed over 600 applications, with no migrants being granted asylum so far."
Earlier this month, UN agencies IOM and UNHCR voiced their concerns over reports of pushbacks at the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, where "groups of people have become stranded for weeks, unable to access any form of assistance, asylum or basic services."
At the beginning of the month, Lithuania expelled five Afghan nationals back to neighboring Belarus, despite an order by the European Court of Human Rights that they be allowed to stay.
Tensions between Lithuania and Belarus
Different members of the Lithuanian government have slammed Belarus' authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko, accusing him of deliberately bringing large numbers of refugees to the EU's external border.
Lithuania has faced a large influx of migrants from the Middle East over its nearly 680-kilometer border with Belarus since Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko had indicated on May 26 that Belarus could retaliate against the latest EU sanctions by loosening border controls for irregular, western-bound migrants as well as drug trafficking.
"We used to catch migrants in droves here -- now, forget it, you will be catching them yourselves," he had said. The announcement came after the EU imposed sanctions on the non-EU country following the forced diversion of a passenger jet en route to Vilnius to arrest a Belarusian dissident.
Lithuania, which also borders Poland, Latvia and the Russian Kaliningrad enclave, has been critical of Belarus following the brutal crackdown after a presidential election there last year which President Alexander Lukashenko claimed he won after 26 years of authoritarian rule but the opposition insists was rigged.
In the months after the election, the EU and NATO member country gave shelter to several members of the Belarussian opposition, including Lukashenko's main challenger Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. Both Lithuania and Belarus are former Soviet satellite states.
In early July, Lithuania declared a state of emergency and started building a fence along its border with Belarus. At the beginning of August, Lithuania's border patrol started using so-called pushbacks against migrants who enter the country irregularly from Belarus.