- Lithuania says Belarus sends migrants in retaliation for EU sanctions
- A migrant told Reuters she flew to Minsk from Mogadishu via Istanbul
- She says her group had to pay $ 7,000 to take them to Lithuania
- Lithuania builds new camp to accommodate migrants
- European border agency to start deporting migrants by air
BRUSSELS / VYDENIAI, Lithuania, July 12 (Reuters) – The Lithuanian foreign minister on Monday accused Belarus of using illegal migrants as a political weapon to pressure the European Union over the bloc’s sanctions against Minsk.
Belarus used to transport migrants from abroad and send them across the border to EU countries, Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said upon arriving for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
The EU should consider imposing more sanctions on Belarus, he said.
“When refugees are used as a political weapon … I will talk to my colleagues so that the European Union has a common strategy”, Landsbergis
Nearly 1,700 migrants have entered Lithuania, an EU state, illegally from Belarus this year, including more than 1,000 in July alone, according to the Lithuanian border guard service.
Half of them identified themselves as Iraqi citizens.
Landsbergis suggested the migrants were being turned into a leverage on the EU, which has imposed a series of sanctions on Belarus since a contested presidential election last August, followed by a police crackdown on street protests.
“We have to be very strict with regimes that use these kinds of weapons, first of all with sanctions,” he said.
Lithuanian EU Member of Parliament Rasa Jukneviciene told a meeting with European and Lithuanian officials that Belarus and Russia are organizing human trafficking rings with Iran’s help to transport people. people at the Lithuanian border, although she did not provide any evidence. Minsk and Moscow deny such operations.
The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry told Reuters it would propose a gradual extension of economic sanctions.
Last month, the EU imposed broad economic sanctions on Belarus’ major export industries, as well as banks and finance, in an attempt to tap the income streams of President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994.
EU leaders were outraged when Belarusian authorities intercepted an airliner between Athens and Vilnius on May 23 and arrested a dissident journalist and his girlfriend who were on board.
Lukashenko said last week that his government would not close its borders with its neighbors and become a “detention site” for migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Reuters asked Belarus for further comments on Monday.
Lithuania began building a 550 km (320 mile) razor wire barrier on its border with Belarus on Friday.
A Somali migrant who spoke to Reuters at a temporary detention site in Lithuania said her group was told they could pay $ 7,000 upon arrival for transit to Lithuania. They were now held in cramped and unsanitary conditions, she said. Read more
The woman, who identified as Kauthar, 19, said she fled war and domestic violence in her native Somalia, flying to Minsk via Istanbul, but was abandoned in the open countryside around the Belarusian-Lithuanian border because it could not pay for the transfer. fresh.
It was not clear who organized the trip to Mogadishu or who abandoned the migrants in Belarus.
She was speaking to Reuters through a fence erected around a disused school in the Lithuanian village of Vydeniai which has been turned into a detention center. The main detention center in Pabrade is full and migrants are temporarily housed in scattered sites near the border area.
EU border guard agency Frontex said on Monday it would send additional officers, patrol cars and experts to speak to migrants who have reached Lithuania to gather information on criminal networks .
“The situation on the Lithuanian border with Belarus remains worrying. I have decided to send a rapid intervention to the Lithuanian borders to strengthen the EU’s external border, ”Fabrice Leggeri, Executive Director of Frontex, said in a statement.
Leggeri later told EU officials and lawmakers that Frontex was preparing to take migrants out of Lithuania with a mix of commercial flights and charters for those who had not been granted refugee status by Vilnius.
Reporting by Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold, editing by Timothy Heritage and Angus MacSwan
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