Migrant crisis lesson for Lithuania – if we expect help, we should help others

Everyday life for migrants at Rūdninkai training ground. Julius Kalinskas photo. 15min.lt

The migrant crisis, which was engineered by the A. Lukashenko regime, has convincingly showcased how important in such cases is European solidarity for a country, which experiences an influx of unexpected visitors lrytas.lt wrote in its editorial Laiko Ženklai.

When Greece and the Balkan states were flooded by tens of thousands of migrants from the Middle East in 2015, while Italy and Spain by those mostly from Northern Africa, the European Commission proposed for all EU states to share the burden. However, Eastern and Central Europe opposed the quota system. Hungary and Poland even entirely refused to accept asylum seekers.

It was planned for around 160 thousand migrants to be distributed as per the EU quotas, but in reality, only around 30 thousand were sent. The Lithuanian government, while hesitating and facing severe criticism, agreed to share the burden.

Our country was allotted 1,105 migrants, which was later reduced and eventually, 254 persons were transferred. Already a year later, only less than a quarter of them remained in the country and now – only a dozen. In other towards, there was much fear, but the problems were minimal.

The situation is entirely different now – the migrants are moving toward Lithuania directly, there are many times more of them now than were transferred five years ago.

While Lithuania desperately needs financial, technical and political aid from the EU, our country received a slightly different call for help from France – its leader E. Macron sent a letter to President G. Nausėda, asking for our country to contribute to the French military operation in Mali.

This is an official request and we have known for several months now about the French wish for Lithuania to send its special forces to the French-led European combat group Takuba.

France announced in June that its military operation in Mali titled Barkhane would be replaced by an international mission. The French are not retreating from the Islamic jihadi beset country but seeks more military burden-sharing with its NATO allies in Europe.

The Takuba special operations group is currently comprised of around 600 troops, with seven European NATO countries participating other than France. The group includes Estonia and Denmark is due to join next year. Norway recently announced it would do so as well.

It isn’t difficult to understand why E. Macron wishes to expand the international military mission in France’s former colony of Mali – the French presidential elections are due in April next year and then the parliamentary elections in June.

With France still enduring the bad memories of the intensive war in Algiers between 1954 and 1962, which even caused an internal conflict, it is not popular in the country to send its troops to combat missions, especially multi-year ones. It would be politically beneficial to E. Marcon to announce to voters that increasingly many countries are sharing the burden of combatting the jihadis in Mali.

Lithuania has yet to answer if it will assist the French. The Seimas National Security and Defence Committee (NSGK) received the request favourably and the ministries of foreign affairs and national defence also hold voices, which support joining Takuba, but G. Nausėda remains silent.

The Presidential Palace has announced that the State Defence Council will be called regarding this mission and added that the Lithuanian contribution to international security by means of participating in military missions is already sizeable in light of the size of our military. Indeed, Lithuanians are participating in the United Nations peacekeeping operation MINUSMA, our troops are also present in Iraq.

This perhaps shows that G. Nausėda is unsure how to act. This is because there are many in Lithuania who think that we should only care about our own affairs and shouldn’t meddle elsewhere, especially in African wars. Thus, sending troops to Mali could be a decision that could prove somewhat unpopular, counterproductive in terms of ratings and unappealing to the president.

It cannot be ruled out that the president’s foreign policy advisors clashing with the leadership of the Foreign Ministry might also have an impact. It would be particularly harmful to Lithuanian foreign policy if such clashes were to become an eyesore even for our country’s allies.

Nevertheless, Lithuania should probably not reject France’s proposal. It is one of the most influential EU countries, its support would be immensely useful in handling the migrant crisis and if we accede to the French request, we have justification for asking them to take into account Lithuania’s needs.

The Ministry of National Defence agrees with sending Lithuanian troops to Mali. It is said that among the country’s special forces, there are more of those looking to serve abroad than places in such missions and so, you wouldn’t be forcing anyone to go to Africa.

By the way, troops serving in international missions earn significantly more than at home and special operations detachments usually hold adventure-seeking individuals who are unafraid of tough challenges.

It is not mere flattery that has NATO generals praising Lithuanian special operations forces – it is said that they are truly professional and have proven themselves in Afghanistan. Around 5 thousand Lithuanian troops were stationed in Afghanistan over a dozen years, but there was only one fatality.

Of course, every life is invaluable, but the professionalism of our troops allows us to expect that we will be able to avoid major casualties in Mali as well, while the goal of the military mission itself shouldn’t raise any doubts.

After all, it is civilians being defended from jihadis in Mali and in the contemporary world, you cannot think that a massacre far away doesn’t involve us. After all, the murderers could knock on our own door.

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