Lithuanian authorities say the number of people illegally crossing its border from Belarus has passed 3,000 from the start of the year in what is seen as revenge by Minsk after the European Union imposed a new round of sanctions on Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s repressive regime.
The EU member’s border guard service said on July 28 that 171 people were caught illegally entering Lithuania the previous day, the largest number in a single day this year. The border service said the group of migrants were all from Iraq.
A total of 2,366 illegal migrants were detained so far this month, compared with 473 last month. Last year, the total number of people caught illegally crossing was 81.
Lukashenka has repeatedly threatened to allow migrants to cross into the EU in response to sanctions imposed on Minsk following a disputed presidential election last year and a subsequent crackdown on those protesting the strongman’s claim that he won reelection by a landslide.
The Baltic country, which shares a border with Belarus of about 680 kilometers, has also become a center for the Belarusian opposition led by Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya since the disputed election.
The EU, the United States, Britain, and Canada have slapped further sanctions on Lukashenka’s regime after Belarus forced a passenger flight from Athens to Vilnius to land in Minsk in May to arrest a dissident journalist and his girlfriend.
Frontex, the EU border control agency, has pledged some 60 border guards with 30 vehicles and two helicopters to help Lithuania monitor the border area and stem the flow of illegal migrants.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa