Latvia has declared a three-month state of emergency in administrative territories adjacent to its border with Belarus, following a relative surge in the number of individuals crossing into Latvia illegally and in the wake of much larger numbers doing the same into Lithuania, over several week.
The order will permit Latvia's border guard to return illegal migrants back to Belarus, to reject asylum applications, and to use physical force where necessary, the English-language portal of public broadcaster LSM reports, while both the State Police and the National Armed Forces are required to assist in the order's enforcement.
Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš called the development a turning point and one which essentially closes the border with Belarus, while justice minister Jānis Bordāns stressed it was issued in response to hybrid warfare on the part of the Alexander Lukashenko regime, after the Belarusian leader threatened to flood Europe with refugees.
The decision was made at cabinet-level Tuesday and follows a national state of emergency which the country declared in response to the coronavirus pandemic, last year.
Only four border districts, including the city of Daugavpils, are covered by the order, LSM reports.
The state of emergency is set to run until November 10, but can be both shortened and extended by up to three months, again by the cabinet.
Latvia reported around 200 illegal entrants coming from Belarus over a 24-hour period to Tuesday morning, while the country's southern neighbor, Lithuania, has reported over 4,000 individuals entering the country since mid-summer, predominantly people originally from Iraq and other Middle-Eastern, North African and Sub-Saharan African countries.
The numbers crossing into Lithuania, whose capital, Vilnius, lies just around 30km from the border, has been stemmed in recent days following a government order in that country granting permission to turn illegal migrants back.
Minsk's relations with Lithuania, the other Baltic States and the EU and West as a whole have been at a low ebb since the reelection of Lukashenko for a sixth term exactly a year ago, in polls widely condemned as rigged, while Vilnius is sheltering leading Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Late May saw the virtual hijacking of a Ryanair passenger plan destined for Vilnius, while it was still in Belarusian airspace, having flown from Greece. The flight's passenger complement included another leading Belarusian opposition leader who was seized by authorities after the airliner was forced to land in Minsk.
Estonia does not share a frontier with Belarus, but does have a lengthy border with Latvia, which has been in a state of part or sometimes full closure throughout the pandemic, largely from the Latvian side.
Estonia has also sent Police and Border Guard personnel, and equipment such as tents and razor wire to Lithuania, aimed at aiding authorities there.
Editor: Andrew Whyte