Latvia weighs up state of emergency after migrant influx from Belarus
Latvia's government is expected to decide Tuesday on whether it will join Lithuania granting its border guard authority the right to turn away migrants who cross its frontier with neighboring Belarus, the English-language portal of public broadcaster LSM reports. This would entail declaring a national state of emergency.
Migrant accommodation facilities are already at full capacity, LSM says, with the possible need for temporary facilities such as tents on the horizon, if the flow of entrants continues.
Head of the Latvian state border guard Guntis Pujāts told Latvian news agency LETA that: "It is therefore important to announce a state of emergency so that municipalities and other services can be involved in dealing with the crisis," LSM reports.
Pujāts told Latvian TV Tuesday morning that 65 illegal migrants had been detained on Latvian soil overnight, after crossing the border from Belarus, bringing the number of border crossings in a 24-hour period to over 200.
Pujāts has described the influx as organized, while MP Juris Rancāns, chair of the Saeima – the Latvian parliament – internal affairs and corruption prevention committee said Tuesday morning that the country's armed forces should also be involved in stemming the flow.
Rancāns told Latvian radio Tuesday that this did not mean: "Detaining [offenders], as has been the case so far, and [provide] accommodation, further problem-solving, but to directly deter so that they do not reach [Latvia] and we do not get into Lithuania's situation, where there is a threat of a criminal situation, and where the flow that comes with immigrants can also be a terrorist risk."
Both Latvia and Lithuania share a border with Belarus, as does Poland, which has also just seen a record number of migrant arrivals in one day, at just under 350, Reuters reports.
The crisis had until now been largely focused on Lithuania as one of the main critics of Alexander Lukashenko's regime, home to the leading opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, compounded by the fact that the country's capital, Vilnius, lies just 30km from the border.
While over 4,000 illegal migrants have entered the country, primarily in the southeast, in recent weeks, in a development described by the Estonian leadership as a type of hybrid warfare, Lithuania has started returning incoming illegal migrants at the border, and, the English-language page of public broadcaster LRT reports, is also now offering €300 to individuals to return to their countries of origin – which include Iraq and other Middle-Eastern, North African and Sub-Saharan African states.
Estonia does not share a border with Belarus.
Guntis Pujāts declined to specify the extent of border guards' powers following any potential state of emergency declaration, though said that details would be discussed Tuesday at cabinet level.
Surveillance of the border and the presence of an armed border guard or the armed forces would be sufficient deterrent, Pujāts claimed.
The original LSM article is here.
Latvia also declared a state of emergency with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, and has closed its borders to other EU and Schengen Zone states, including Estonia, on more than one occasion during that time.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte