A Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) unit deployed to Lithuania in the wake of migratory pressure on its border with Belarus is spending both Christmas and the New Year in the southernmost Baltic State, and has described the situation there as 'calm', ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Saturday evening.
The unit, the sixth of its kind since the PPA started sending personnel to Lithuania in mid-summer and dubbed ESTPOL5, has had to make do with online communication with family members over the Christmas break.
Erkko Piirimägi, ESTPOL5 commander, told AK that: "The families of the team members have been supportive, and we this has brought us the opportunity to come. Actually, we get all the communication channels' opportunities to communicate - the internet, the phone – at all times. Unfortunately, it is the lot of a police officer, whereby sometimes we have to make concessions in serving the public."
The PPA is a civilian organization falling under the Estonian interior ministry's remit, whereas an Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) unit sent to the Poland-Belarus border, albeit prompted by the same crisis, falls under the defense ministry's authority.
The PPA personnel's equipment includes a drone, deployed around the migrant accommodation center at Medininkai and hosting those individuals who have already crossed the border into Lithuania.
Much of the current team's work has been based more on liaising with and overseeing these people, rather than patrolling the border itself which, AK reported, is much calmer than in summer when large numbers of illegal migrants, in many cases bussed from the Belarusian capital, Minsk, after arriving by plane from countries such as Iraq, were observed being goaded towards the border by Alexander Lukashenko's security forces.
The experience is nonetheless useful for the PPA personnel, who have not been involved in any similar situation in the real world to date.
PPA dog Šaakal was among those gaining valuable experience; his handler, Andrus Liiv, told AK that: "It suits him well. The weather is the same as ours, and he likes it there, where I am /.../ There are few different smells and customs here, but he has got used to it."
Around 800 migrants are housed at Medininkai, AK reported, while a total of 3,300 people are in accommodation centers nationwide in Lithuania.
No real issues have been experienced, Piirimägi told AK. "We keep communication to a minimum [with the migrants]; we use both English and Russian. We also support our Lithuanian colleagues, to allow information to be exchanged and to allow fulfillment of the accommodation center's wishes."
Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, lies only 30km from the border with Belarus.
The surge in illegal migration began in mid-summer and has been mirrored by similar developments on Belarus' borders with Latvia and Poland.
It followed sanctions imposed on the regime after the August 2020 election saw Lukashenko returned for a sixth term in polls widely condemned as rigged, a brutal crackdown on dissenters following the election, and the spring hijacking of a civilian Ryanair airliner while in Belarusian airspace. One of the passengers on board was a Belarusian opposition leader, while the leading opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has been residing in Vilnius since the crackdown began.
Editor: Andrew Whyte