Lithuania has started the process of repatriating illegal immigrants who have crossed over its border with Belarus, and has not as yet granted asylum to any. President Gitanas Nausėda granted special powers to authorities which in effect constitute martial law in those eastern border areas, at a time when small numbers of migrants have absconded from the internment camps set up to receive them.
Evidence of Belarusian security forces directing illegal migrants to Latvia's, rather than Lithuania's, border has also been presented.
Estonia's interior Kristian Jaani says that he supports Lithuania, and Latvia, which declared a border state of emergency a couple of days earlier, and has also been seeing a surge in inward migration, adding that the issue is a pan-EU one which requires EU support in helping to build up its eastern frontier, just as Estonia has contributed to monitoring the union's southern, maritime border, in the wake of the migrant crisis which started several years ago.
Lithuanian interior minister Agnė Bilotaitė said Friday that: "The processes are underway, this is the start; we are trying to get illegal migrants back to their homeland."
Just over 30 individuals had left the camp set up for them by Lithuanian authorities at Verebiejai, near Alytus, in the southeast of that country, and were at large.
32 migrants housed in camps in Lithuania absconded
Interior ministry spokesperson Mindaugas Bajarunas said that: "Two of them were found and brought back to the school." The internment camp is based in a schoolhouse.
Lithuanian border guard personnel have started their search for the remaining people who had absconded, including helicopters in their activities.
Head of the Lithuania's migration board Evelina Gudzinskaitė says that around 1,500 of the over 4,000 migrants who have since mid-summer arrived over the border into Lithuania, from Belarus, have applied for asylum. None of these applications have yet been accepted, Gudzinskaitė said, while the 200 which have so far been reviewed have been rejected.
"This means that all people who are currently working with them will be informed about other opportunities, as well as the opportunity to return home voluntarily," Gudzinskaitė said.
Footage shows Belarusian security forces apparently goading migrants towards and over Latvian border
While the migrants have been crossing over from Belarus, most of them hail from Iraq, and other Middle-Eastern, North African and Sub-Saharan African nations, it is reported, in many cases having flown to Belarus and then allegedly been ferried over to that country's western border, which abuts on to three EU nations, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, all three of which have seen a surge in illegal immigration.
Recently reported video footage (see below) apparently shows Belarusian security forces corralling migrants at the border with Latvia, in an effort to get them to cross into that country.
Estonia does not share a border with Belarus, though the leadership in the country has referred to the uptick in migration as a a form of hybrid warfare on the part of the Alexander Lukashenko regime.
14 migrants have agreed to head back to countries of origin
Lithuania began to turn away migrants at its border several days ago, and has according to some reports being offering financial inducements of around €300 a head to return to the country of origin, by air.
A total of 14 migrants who entered that country illegally have voluntarily agreed to return to their country of origin, the interior ministry says, while a further 11 are subject to other procedures. A single individual returned home on Thursday.
Lithuania's head of state, Gitanas Nauseda, signed a decree Friday, similar to Latvia's, which grants the armed forces and police special powers in those border areas, including stop and search of vehicles.
As in Latvia, the regulations apply only in the border areas and not nationwide.
Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian interior ministers in close contact
In Estonia, interior minister Kristian Jaani noted that aid already sent to the southernmost Baltic State could also be supplemented by more, including in the form of advisers.
Meeting with his Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts, Marija Golubeva and Agnė Bilotaitė, via video link Friday, Jaani, a former police chief, said that: "The exact need in this regard is being clarified."
"Lithuania is currently in its second rotation from the 10-strong [Estonian] police unit ESTPOL5. Estonia also supports Lithuania via the European Border and Coast Guard Agency FRONTEX, with both technology and experts," Jaani continued, according to the ministry's website, while two border specialists equipped with surveillance cameras (see cover image), and one representative of Estonian private sector defense firm Defendec will be in situ on the border to the end of October, he added.
The Estonian Rescue Board (Päästeamet) as sent just under a dozen tents and furnishings, including bedding, in order to house the migrants at camp and via the framework of the EU's civil protection mechanism, as well as 100km of barbed wire, and drones.
Lithuania emergency requested by government, granted by president
The PPA is also set to send personnel to take part in a scenario exercise in Latvia, the ministry says.
The three interior ministers will officially meet again next Wednesday, along with the other 24 EU interior ministers or equivalent, the Estonian interior ministry says.
The Lithuanian declaration Thursday came at the request of the government and was issued to the head of state, Nausėda, while the special powers granted will permit personnel to pursue and apprehend those who do not comply with requests to stop.
Kristian Jaani also said that the understanding in all three Baltic States was that full border infrastructure construction would need to be done via EU funding, at least in part, as the union's eastern frontier.
Estonia has contributed regularly to EU southern frontier
Estonia has contributed to the guarding, monitoring and surveillance of the EU's southern frontier, both via the PPA and contributions to FRONTEX, and with the Estonian Defense Forces' (EDF) contribution to EU military mission EUNAVFOR Med, now known as Operation Irini.
Kristian Jaani reiterated Friday that the migratory pressure that commended in Belarus was not a refugee crisis, but a state-organized illegal migration drive.
The Lithuanian parliament, the Seimas, recently made the very legislative amendments which were needed in order to grant the armed forces and police the special powers they now have at the border.
A potentially aggravating factor is also the annual Exercise Zapad, a Russian Federation mass military exercise which also involves Belarus' armed forces and which envisions potential scenarios on Russia's western border districts ("Zapad" being the Russian word for west).
Estonia's southeastern border with Russia was already being built up
While no special powers have been granted to the PPA over and above what they normally have, patrols on Estonia's border with Latvia have been stepped up – while Estonia does not border with Belarus, Latvia does.
Much of the rest of Estonia's land border is made up of natural waterways, running from Narva Jõesuu to the western shore of Pihka Järv, though beyond that, the southeasternmost stretch of border is more similar to Latvia and Lithuania's eastern frontiers in being in heavily forested, comparatively sparsely populated areas, but with larger population centers relatively nearby.
At the same time, the bordering nation in question is the Russian Federation, not Belarus.
In any case, the erection of border infrastructure there has been an ongoing project for several years in Estonia.
Editor: Andrew Whyte