Tension at the border rises again: migrants look for shortcuts, route changes observed

The number of irregular migrants arriving in Lithuania from Belarus is increasing again, some looking for loopholes at the border, some dismantling the unfinished fence and being turned around by border guards.

A year after the first flows of migrants from Belarus, tensions are rising again at the border. Every day, more and more refugees from Asian and African countries are pouring into Lithuania.<br>M.Patašiaus nuotr.
A year after the first flows of migrants from Belarus, tensions are rising again at the border. Every day, more and more refugees from Asian and African countries are pouring into Lithuania.<br>M.Patašiaus nuotr.
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Lrytas.lt

Aug 3, 2022, 4:50 PM

A year after the first flows of migrants from Belarus, tensions are rising again at the border. Every day, more and more refugees from Asian and African countries are pouring into Lithuania.

On Friday and Saturday, officials turned away 109 illegal migrants trying to cross the border. The number has never been higher this year – the record was set two weeks ago when officials refused to let 81 migrants into Lithuania.

More active summer travellers

It is speculated that migrant flows may have increased not only because of the Belarusian policy but also because of favourable weather conditions. During the summer, flows of irregular migrants also increase at the borders of other European Union countries.

Rustam Liubaev, head of the State Border Guard Service (SBGS), did not rule out the possibility that Belarusian border guards themselves are forming groups of migrants, as last week, officers caught large groups of illegal immigrants, including citizens of different countries.

„In real life, seeing three or four nationalities in one group in Europe is quite rare. Usually, there are representatives of one country in the group,“ Liubaev told Elta.

Looking for loopholes at the border

The route of migrants has also changed somewhat recently. Last year and at the beginning of this year, most of the illegal immigrants were apprehended in the Varėna border section, while more of them are now caught in the territory of the Vilnius border section.

Migrants' routes to the Lithuanian border remain unchanged. Most of them come from Afghanistan, Syria, Tajikistan, and African countries, arrive in Moscow or other cities, reach Belarus by various means of transport and then push on to the Lithuanian or Polish borders.

Liubayev believes that attempts by irregular migrants to enter Lithuania are unlikely to stop soon, which is why it is important to build a physical barrier at the border as soon as possible, as most of the migrants are still looking for sections where there are no barriers.

The fence is in a hurry

The Lithuanian-Belarusian border is currently about 353 kilometres of concertina and 493 kilometres of the fence. The total length of the Lithuanian border with Belarus is 679 kilometres. The fence is planned to be closed off from Belarus by September.

„This is not a 100% guarantee, but a 95% guarantee. Imagine if the border and the concertina did not exist. The key thing is to intercept them so that we can return them to their owners through this beautiful gate,“ said Laurynas Kasčiūnas, head of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence, during a visit to the border.

However, the fence has been damaged several times by migrants. According to Mr Liubayev, Belarusian border guards sometimes contribute by helping migrants climb the fence or cut it.

They get away scot-free

Illegal immigrants rush to retreat into Belarus when caught by Lithuanian border guards. This game has been going on for a long time, but, according to Mr Liubayev, it does not solve the problem.

„If we only record the violation of the state border and do not have the possibility to react or detain illegal migrants, there is no benefit from the system or the physical barrier.

We will just see that a violation is taking place, but there is nothing we can really do. This is why border security problems need to be tackled comprehensively,“ said Mr Liubaev.

The installation of border surveillance systems is also planned to be completed by the end of the year.

The migrant wins court case

However, both turning around and apprehending irregular migrants is becoming increasingly difficult. Lithuania has received warnings from international organisations about violations of their rights, and foreigners have flooded the courts with complaints.

The Lithuanian Supreme Administrative Court (LSA), which is hearing their complaints about the lawfulness of detention, has referred them to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Last week, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld a migrant's appeal and ruled that he had been unlawfully detained, in line with the CJEU's findings.

The extended Chamber of Judges stressed that the declaration of an emergency due to a mass influx of foreigners does not in itself justify the detention of an asylum seeker and that the opportunity to apply for asylum must be given to the foreigner as soon as possible.

Hundreds disappear

Currently, less than 1 400 irregular migrants are living in the five Alien Registration Centres in Lithuania.

In July this year, more than 800 foreigners registered in Lithuania did not return to their accommodation, while around 500 cases of absconding were recorded in June.

Until 22 September, irregular migrants can still return to their countries of origin voluntarily, with a €1,000 allowance. Since the start of the migration crisis, 1,040 foreigners have benefited from this option.

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