About 5,000 Migrants currently live in three camps near the Lithuanian-Belarussian border | Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/picture-alliance
About 5,000 Migrants currently live in three camps near the Lithuanian-Belarussian border | Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/picture-alliance

The Lithuanian interior minister says migrant arrivals from Belarus have stopped, while the foreign minister visited Iraqi officials to discuss the repatriation of Iraqi nationals stranded at the Belarus-Lithuania border.

Lithuania's declared state of emergency on the Belarus border expired on Saturday, January 15, after officials announced that the numbers of people attempting to cross the border without permission or papers has declined and the situation stabilized, Lithuanian media reported.

"The border area will now be accessible to everyone; all you need is an identity document," said Giedrius Misutis, the State Border Guard Service's spokesman, to Baltic News Service (BNS).

Under the state of emergency, first declared in August and then extended in early November 2021, Lithuania limited citizens' access to areas near its border with Belarus and ramped up on border control. Troops and police forces were deployed to support border guards, while the use of force for preventing illegal border crossings was allowed. The move was widely criticized by EU officials, rights groups and NGOs, for facilitating the use of informal pushbacks which violate EU and international law.

Migrant arrivals stopped

The government's decision to end the state of emergency was announced by the Prime Minister, Ingrida Symonite in a press conference on Wednesday, January 12.

"According to our data [the arrival of migrants from Belarus] has stopped," said the Prime Minister, according to Delfi news agency, Lithuania's main news portal. "For the time being, we will control [the border] the way we did before the state of emergency was declared."

In early January, Lithuania's Interior Minister Agné Bilotaitè had suggested extending the state of emergency for another month.

"The Interior Ministry has really seriously assessed the situation and sees that the threats have not gone anywhere and the basis for the state of emergency remains," she said at the press conference, according to Baltic Times

But even though the state of emergency has now been revoked, Prime Minister Symonite did not rule out the possibility of its return.

"If the situation changes, if we see that it seemed to someone that Lithuania has lowered its own level of vigilance and is less focused on protecting the EU borders, then we will return to the parliament on the issue of introducing a new state of emergency," she declared.


About 4,000 Iraqi nationals, who were stranded on Belarus' border with Lithuania and Poland, have returned to Iraq, according to the Iraqi foreign minister  | Photo: Sergei Bobylev/TASS/dpa/picture-alliance
About 4,000 Iraqi nationals, who were stranded on Belarus' border with Lithuania and Poland, have returned to Iraq, according to the Iraqi foreign minister | Photo: Sergei Bobylev/TASS/dpa/picture-alliance

Iraq and Lithuania make mutual efforts to end crisis

While the situation may have relaxed somewhat at the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, authorities in Baghdad and Vilnius have remained busy. According to INA, Iraqi state media, they have just announced plans to bolster their cooperation on migration issues.

To this end, on Sunday, January 16, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein received his Lithuanian counterpart Gabrielius Landsbergis in Baghdad, to discuss solutions for stemming migration flows from Iraq, and repatriating Iraqi nationals already stranded on the Belarusian-Lithuanian border.

"Iraq managed to return about 4,000 Iraqi nationals, who were stranded on Belarus' border with Lithuania and Poland," Hussein told journalists at a press conference.

Read more: Belarus: EU says 5,000 migrants repatriated, but urges vigilance

Landsbergis praised Iraq as the first country to stop flights to Belarus.

"Iraq's determination to help Lithuania and the measures taken, allows us to speak about a success model that might also be applied across the European Union for the resolution of similar crises," he said.

Landsbergis is set to meet with authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan on Monday, January 17. 

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said he wanted 'to bring in new cooperation ideas' with Iraq | Photo: Ritzau Scanpix/ Mads Claus Rasmussen/ REUTERS
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said he wanted 'to bring in new cooperation ideas' with Iraq | Photo: Ritzau Scanpix/ Mads Claus Rasmussen/ REUTERS

Since last summer, thousands of migrants, many from the Middle East and Iraq in particular, have arrived on the EU's various borders with Belarus, fleeing poverty, war and instability in their home countries, and all hoping for a chance to enter the EU.

EU officials have accused the government of Alexander Lukashenko of luring migrants to the EU border as retaliation for sanctions against the Belarusian regime.

Read more: Lithuania says migrants will be paid €1,000 to return home

 

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