A press conference was held on Friday to discuss the challenges and the way forward. The Minister of the Interior Agnė Bilotaitė, the Commander of the State Border Guard Service, General Rustamas Liubajevas, and the Director of the Migration Department, Evelina Gudzinskaitė, attended the press conference, Andresa Rupšytė wrote in tv3.lt.
Bilotaitė: “Belarus’ route through Lithuania is complete”
“This year has demanded quick, unconventional and often unpopular decisions. But these decisions were all really unavoidable because we had to ensure the national security of our country and at the same time not break with humanity. We have certainly repelled the hybrid attack on all of us organised by [Aliaksandr] Lukashenko.
This is the first time that Europe has had to face an attack of this kind, where living people have been used as a tool to put pressure on Lithuania and the European Union as a whole,” Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė told journalists on Friday.
Lithuania was attacked more than 3,000 times last July.
“There were days when we had 200-500 attempts to cross the Lithuanian border. But I have to say that Lukashenko’s plan to flood the EU with illegal migrants has failed. It failed because we had and have the political will to defend ourselves. We had an effective response, and we took all the necessary decisions – modernising our border protection system and mobilising,” the minister said.
She added that “the Belarusian route through Lithuania is complete, as identified by social networks and acknowledged by the migrants themselves”.
The minister also gives her ministry’s assessment of what is next for the migrant crisis.
“We are living in a difficult period, Lithuania is under attack by information, hybrid and cyber attacks, and as for the pressure of illegal migration, although it seems to be only episodic at the moment, it still persists,” Bilotaitė told a press conference on Friday.
She said that the flow of illegal migrants trying to cross the border from Belarus was showing new directions via Moscow and that there was no room for relaxation.
“We need to make it clear to ourselves that there is still a possibility of such repeated provocations, so we have to be ready, we have to be prepared, and that is what we are doing,” the minister said.
Last year, almost 4.2 thousand migrants, mostly from the Middle East and Africa, arrived illegally in Lithuania from Belarus, and Lithuania called the influx of migrants from Belarus a year ago a hybrid attack by the Minsk regime. Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Lithuania’s declaration of a state of emergency over the influx of migrants.
According to the Minister, all asylum applications from migrants who arrived during the peak of the crisis last summer have now been processed, and the vast majority of them have been rejected.
“439 persons have absconded from their accommodation. This shows that these persons are not seeking asylum in Lithuania,” the minister said.
Referring to the declaration of a state of emergency, Ms Bilotaitė stressed that this legal situation made it easier to use the Government’s reserve funds, coordinate actions between institutions, and mobilise the help of the services and the army to manage the migrant flows.
“The year required quick, unconventional, and, I would say, often unpopular decisions, but all of these decisions were really unavoidable because we had to ensure the national security of the state at the same time,” said Ms Bilotaitė.
“We have certainly repelled a hybrid attack organised by Lukashenko, and for the first time, Europe had to face an attack using live human beings,” the minister said.
The minister pointed out that €152 million had been earmarked for the physical barrier to protect the state border and that more than 426 km of fencing with Belarus had now been built. This represents 79% of the total planned project.
“And 346 km of concertina, which is 94 per cent. Our ambitious target is 508 km, and we will have done that by September,” said Ms Bilotaitė.
The deployment of state border equipment has also been accelerated.
“We know that the process has been moving, but apparently at such a pace that in just a decade, we would have covered 100% of the border with surveillance systems. Now more than 70% of the EU border is already monitored with modern equipment, and by the end of the year, we will cover the entire border with Belarus with a modern border surveillance system,” said the minister.
Lithuania criticised for migrant abuse
“Amnesty International’s report on the treatment of irregular migrants by the Lithuanian authorities last Monday failed to appreciate the context of the situation, Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė said.
The human rights organisation criticised the actions of Lithuanian officials in dealing with last year’s migration crisis. It proposes to stop the policy of reversal and release all asylum seekers and irregular migrants.
The Ministry of the Interior also issued a statement saying that the report is biased by the opinions and testimonies of only one side and does not consider the situation’s context.
“The context of the situation itself has not been assessed because this is not just migration processes and this is not war refugees who are fleeing from war and completely different mechanisms are being activated, this is a hybrid attack organised by the Belarusian regime,” the interior minister told reporters at the Seimas on Monday.
Responding to the organisation’s criticism that migrants were being held in appalling conditions in the registration centres, Bilotaitė said that it was not possible to find suitable infrastructure in the face of the sudden influx.
“The extreme situation is the reason why such a huge number of people entered Lithuania at the same time with the help of the Belarusian regime, and of course, there was no infrastructure, everything had to be created, and it was not easy to find the places, and there were also different kinds of resistance in the selection of certain places,” the minister said.
According to Rustam Liubayev, head of the State Border Guard Service (SBGS), border guards are trying to improve the living conditions of migrants but are being provoked.
“There have been and continue to be efforts to improve the living conditions of migrants, the infrastructure of foreigners’ registration centres, and the feeding of foreigners, but “in return”, the officers of the SBGS are constantly provoked, openly insulted, accused of unnecessary things, etc.,” the ministry’s statement quoted Mr Liubaev as saying.
According to Ms Bilotaitė, the previous system of examining asylum applications provided opportunities for abuse.
“It was simply very easy to abuse, one with certain loopholes. We should have made it clear that we needed changes so that the processes used by the Belarusian regime would not be used against us,” she said.
Meanwhile, a human rights organisation says the Lithuanian authorities have failed to apply a proper process for examining asylum claims, have obstructed asylum seekers’ access to necessary evidence and have treated the legal aid system as a sham.
Ms Bilotaitė rejected the organisation’s criticism that the turning away of migrants is illegal under international and EU law.
“The procedures are working, and people are using the procedures, and they are certainly in line with EU requirements,” she said. The report was based on data obtained from
“Amnesty International’s visit to Lithuania between November 2021 and May 2022. They interviewed 47 migrants and visited the Foreigners Registration Centres (FRC) in Medininkai and Kybartai.
In total, almost 4.2 thousand migrants entered Lithuania illegally from Belarus last year, mostly from the Middle East and Africa. Lithuania calls the influx of migrants from Belarus a hybrid attack by the Minsk regime.
Since last August, border guards have turned back more than 10,000 people trying to enter Lithuania illegally.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, there are currently around 2 600 migrants living in five Lithuanian alien registration centres. Of the total number of asylum applications submitted, 3-4% have been granted asylum. One hundred thirty foreigners have been granted asylum in Lithuania, and the integration process has started.