The Lithuanian government has decided not to extend a state of emergency along its border with Belarus. The EU country had declared the state of emergency in August to curb the flow of migrants trying to enter the country irregularly.
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte on Wednesday (January 5) said the state of emergency will also no longer be active at camps hosting migrants who had arrived from Belarus.
European Union (EU) member states accuse Belarus of encouraging irregular migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa to cross the border into the EU in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Minsk over human rights abuses.
"At this time the government will not propose to continue with the state of emergency beyond January 15, but we might need to consider it depending on how the situation develops," said Simonyte.
Hundreds of migrants arrived at the Lithuanian-Belarusian border last year on some days. The authorities responded by increasing border security and erecting a border fence along hundreds of kilometers. In recent weeks, Lithuania and fellow EU member state Poland reported lower numbers of attempts of people trying to cross their borders. This week, no migrants attempted to enter Lithuania, according to official numbers.
3-month state of emergency
Along with neighboring Latvia, Lithuania first declared a state of emergency in border areas from August 11 on until November 10 along its 175 kilometer border with Belarus. It was extended on November 9. Poland also declared a state of emergency, which is still active.
The official aim of the state of emergency in Lithuania was to allow soldiers and police to support border guards, who are allowed to use "mental coercion" and "proportional physical violence" under the corresponding law to prevent migrants from entering Lithuania. NGOs, among others, criticized the move to introduce pushbacks, which border guards started using to forcibly return migrants back into Belarus. Pushbacks are illegal under international law.
A total of around 4,200 people crossed the border into Lithuania irregularly to seek asylum. They were initially detained in five reception camps, which are currently accommodating 3,166 people, according to news agency dpa.
With Reuters, dpa