European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday expressed solidarity for Lithuania’s growing influx of migrants from Belarus through a shared 679-km border.
The Lithuanian government declared a country-wide emergency on Friday as 150 migrants crossed the border illegally in the 24 hours to Friday morning.
“Here we see indeed a pattern, a politically motivated pattern, ”said von der Leyen in Vilnius at a joint press conference with the country’s president and the prime minister.
She assured the Lithuanian governement that the European Commission and the European Union stand by your side in these difficult times.
“One thing is for sure: your worries and your problems in Lithuania are European problems. I wanted to reinforce that, we really stand by your side in this difficult time”, she added.
Lithuania’s prime minister said in mid-June she believes Belarus is behind the recent spike of illegal immigration into Lithuania, following an earlier threat in May by President Alexander Lukashenko to loosen border controls.
“We used to catch migrants in droves here - now, forget it, you will be catching them yourselves”, Lukashenko told EU states, in response to sanctions imposed after the country forced a Ryanair plane with a Belarusian dissident on board to land in Minsk, where he was arrested.
Lithuanian Foreign Affairs Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Friday he was unable to reach Belarus authorities to discuss the migration.
The minister said he expects to travel to Iraq and Turkey to discuss curbing the migration, as he believes the migrants fly to Minsk via direct scheduled flights from Baghdad and Istanbul.
The head of the EU’s executive said the European Commission could chip in by providing Lithuania emergency funds to control an “extraordinary situation” and send coast guards to beef up the patrols.
“Most of these people will need to leave Lithuania and go home because, unfortunately, they will not be able to get the status of political asylum”, the foreign minister told a televised government meeting.
Just over half of the 822 migrants this year hail from Iraq, but also from Iran, Syria, Guinea, Turkey and Sri Lanka, accorrding to a Lithuanian border guard.
Includes reporting by Reuters
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