The government of Iraq has pledged to investigate an alleged “plan to smuggle Iraqis into Europe” as the EU border state of Lithuania experiences a mini migrant crisis along its frontier with Belarus.
Lithuania, a Baltic nation with a population under three million, has experienced a surge in illegal border crossings from Alexander Lukashenko’s Belarus in recent months — but the migrants in question are not natives of the pariah state, but of the distant Middle East and Africa.
Speaking in Athens, Greece, on July 15th, Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Simonyte said that there has been a twenty-fold increase in irregular migration compared to 2020 and 2019, with some 1,700 migrants having arrived so far this year — 1,100 in July alone, suggesting a major and accelerating surge is ongoing.
Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis believes that the Lukashenko government is orchestrating the crisis, “to pressure my country and the European Union.”
Lithuania is currently sheltering Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana (Svyatlana) Tsikhanouskaya, and the EU has imposed sanctions on the country for a crackdown on critics which has included the “state-sponsored hijacking” of a Ryanair passenger plane travelling from Athens to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, which was intercepted by Belarusian warplanes and diverted to their country so a dissident journalist on board could be arrested.
Lithuania approved the mass detention of migrants and restricted their rights to appeal even as it began building a barbed wire barrier on its border with Belarus https://t.co/DM8sytFGtA pic.twitter.com/d42XUP2F8o
— Reuters (@Reuters) July 14, 2021
The Lithuanian government has been appealing to the European Union for help with its border crisis and begun collaborating with the Greek government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis, which has taken a strong line on illegal border crossings similarly orchestrated by a foreign power, in their case Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey.
Greece has not received unequivocal support from Brussels in its efforts to protects its borders, which have included forcibly turning away migrant boats — something the British government had steadfastly refused to do in the English Channel, where a similar crisis has been ongoing since 2018 — so may welcome the opportunity for coalition-building with the Lithuanians.
The Lithuanians have also appealed directly to the government of Iraq, which is one of the major countries of origin for the current wave of border crossers, to shut down the Baghdad-to-Belarus migrant route at its source.
In response, Iraqi foreign minister Fuad Hussein has promised to investigate “the plan to smuggle Iraqis into Europe,” claiming that his government “will not accept smugglers in our society” and affirming “our duty to protect our citizens, whether they be inside or outside the country.”
🚨A migration crisis is building up at the Belarus-Lithuania 🇱🇹 border.
— EPP Group (@EPPGroup) July 12, 2021