Lithuania will receive twice as much money for border security by the European Border Protection Organization Frontex next week. The reason is the big increase in migrants crossing the border from Belarus. Correspondent Saskia Dekkers joined Nieuwsuur on a patrol with the Lithuanian border guard.
“Its a hard to guard area,” says Dekkers. “680 kilometers long, with dense forests and swamp.” According to Lithuania, Belarus deliberately lets migrants pass through. It would be a revenge action for the sanctions imposed by the EU on Belarusians: migration as weapon.
In May, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko already threatened that he would open the border to the European Union and let migrants pass through. Indeed, since last week, many migrants have suddenly arrived in Lithuania. Dekkers spoke to some of them in recent days.
“Some of them are African students studying in Belarus because it was easiest to get a residence permit there. The news that its easy to cross the border went like a running fire,” she says.
No Idea About Europe
Indeed, there are far more illegal migrants than before, Lithuanian border guards also tell. “From Africa, Iraq. Men, women and babies. They dont want to stay in Lithuania, but to Germany or France.”
But not all of them have a concrete plan. “For example, there are Iraqis who come from the countryside, who have no idea what Europe looks like,” Dekkers says. “They are only working on crossing the European border. But some of the migrants are highly educated and speak English. They often have a defined idea.”
In addition to African students, there are also migrants who flew from Baghdad to Minsk. They read on Facebook that there is no checks at the border and venture on it.
“Its a big problem,” says Linas Kojala, director of the Eastern European Studies think tank. “We have a complex neighbouring country to Belarus with a regime that is not recognized by Western countries. And unfortunately, they are now using this as a means of threatening Lithuania. And with that the whole European Union, because we have the border that connects us to the other European countries.”
s just getting used to the Lithuanians. They were never a popular destination for migrants from Africa and the Middle East before. Village schools suddenly need to be converted into shelters. The locals respond varying, says Dekkers. “On the one hand they are curious, on the other hand, worried.”
This weekend there were the first demonstrations at the border. In a short period of time, a successful anti-migration and anti-EU movement has been organised in Lithuania, which also fights for traditional family values. Families gather at the border and want to stop migrants themselves.
“They come to my country without papers, and want to transfer a hotel, money and their family. While Ive lived here all my life paying taxes. And I have nothing,” says a member of Seimu Sajudis, which freely translates to “Family Action Group.”
Travel organizers are already making a lot of money on single Europe. The Somali Kauthar (19) says she paid $7000 for the trip from Mogadishu via Istanbul to Minsk.
It can also be cheaper. An Iraqi says he paid 750 euros for a ticket from Baghdad to Minsk. “We came here to save ourselves,” he says.
Heres how the night patrol runs along the hard-to-guard border:
More migrants are expected to come, as news about the easy Belarusian border is spreading rapidly. The Polish authorities also report an increase in the number of migrants crossing the Belarusian border, although the numbers are currently lower than in Lithuania.