22 July 2021
The EU’s swift response to the hijacking of the Ryanair flight by Belarusian authorities in May has prompted Alyaksandr Lukashenka to retaliate by directing flows of illegal migration to the EU through its border with Lithuania. The loudest critic of the neighbouring regime now has to deal with irregular migrants in numbers not seen in this century.
Since January, Lithuania has experienced a significant increase in the number of irregular migrants crossing the border from Belarus — from 81 throughout the whole of 2020 to 1,232 as of the middle of 2021, a number fifteen times higher compared to last year’s total. However, more than 1000 migrants have been detained since the start of June signalling that the change in the migration flows is related to the increased tensions between the two countries after the hijacking of the Ryanair aircraft and the detention of the opposition journalist Roman Protasevich.
On Friday, Lithuania declared a state of emergency, but the situation is said to be under control.
After the EU’s move to ban Belarusian airlines from flying over EU territory or landing in EU airports, Lukashenka threatened that Belarus will not be stopping ‘drugs and migrants’ anymore since the ‘ill-wishers’ in the West are ‘trying to strangle Belarus.’ The Minister of Internal Affairs, Agnė Bilotaitė, calls the threats and tactics of Belarusian authorities an operation of hybrid warfare against Lithuania.