Estonia backs Lithuania's EU proposal to return illegal migrants

Tents housing migrants who crossed the Lithuanian-Belarusian border.
Tents housing migrants who crossed the Lithuanian-Belarusian border. Source: Erik Peinar.

Estonia supports a Lithuanian proposal to the European Union to return illegal migrants who cross its border away from official border checkpoints. Lithuania also wants European Union support for constructing physical border infrastructure which would prevent entry, a policy which Estonia also backs.

Interior ministry citizenship and migration policy department adviser Anneli Viks told ERR Thursday that: "Estonia supports Lithuania's initiative. This respects human rights, while at the same time it protects the EU's external borders from illegal migration," adding that it sought solutions to the issue as a whole and not just on Lithuania's border with Belarus.

Viks said the Lithuanian proposal would allow illegal migrants to cross the border only at recognized checkpoints, while those intercepted crossing elsewhere would be returned.

"To sum up, Lithuania proposes amending the Schengen border agreement and the EU asylum acquis, so that in cases of hybrid attacks, asylum applications are accepted only at border crossing points," Viks said.

Lithuania's interior minister Agne Bilotaite said on Tuesday that: "In an emergency situation where migrants are being used to put pressure on countries, countries have the right to take decisions such as we made in their legislation to prevent illegal entry."

While European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Shinas says several other states have presented similar ideas, pan-EU media network EurActiv reports.

Lithuania has also suggested the EU fund border barriers on its external frontier from its common budget, another suggestion Estonia backs, Viks said, adding this was in the interests of the entire EU.

At present, the EU only provides support for surveillance systems on its borders, rather than physical barriers, Bilotaitė said.

EU interior ministers are to discuss the proposals at their next meeting in October.

Starting in mid-summer, large numbers of illegal migrants began crossing the border from Belarus into Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, a development which Estonia's President, Kersti Kaljulaid, referred to as a type of hybrid warfare and an abuse of human rights, on the part of the Alexander Lukashenko regime.

EurActiv reports Lukashenko's use of migrants as a weapon in response to EU sanctions had been inspired by the activities of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Individuals crossing the border were predominantly from Iraq and other middle-eastern, North African and sub-Saharan African nations, while evidence was provided that their crossings were facilitated by Lukashenko's security forces, from arrival in Minsk through to ferrying to the border and, in some cases, being goaded over the EU border.

Border guards in Lithuania and Poland have reportedly already begun returning those trying to cross the border between checkpoints. Around 200-500 such crossings are repelled daily into Poland, EurActiv reports, with the number since September reaching around 5,000.

EurActiv added that migrants crossing Belarus' border with Poland could reach the German border in three days, compared with the 30 days it would take going via the Balkans.

The full EurActiv article is here.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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