With balaclava, helmet and metal shields in hand, Belarusian troops advanced on a group of 13 immigrants in the “no-one’s zone” between Belarus and Lithuania, shouting “get up”, “come on, come on”, shows video released on Thursday Lithuanian National Border Guard Service (VSAT).
According to the Lithuanian body, the Belarusian agents wanted to force foreigners into Lithuania, in the region of the district of Svencionys (50 km northeast of Vilnius). The group was prevented from crossing the European Union border, the VSAT said, but two others were located on Thursday by the Lithuanian body in the “no-one’s zone” between borders.
The Belarusian dictatorship did not deny the action of its agents recorded in the video, but claimed that it was Lithuania that brought foreigners to the border and forced them to enter its lands.
In a social network account, the Belarus Border Committee stated that the images make it clear that migrants do not want to enter Belarus, as they are stuck in the cross-border zone despite the absence of patrol guards.
“This proves that they did not intend to go to the territory of our country”, says the committee, according to which the group stayed eight days in the intermediate zone and then “advanced into the interior of Lithuania”.
Also according to the dictatorship, “the video makes it clear that the Belarusian side did not use physical force against the refugees.”
The VSAT claims that the foreigners wanted to return to Belarus to try to return to their home country, and that they entered Belarusian territory after receiving water and food from the Lithuanian government.
The exchange of accusations is part of an international crisis provoked by Belarus, in attracting immigrants to its country and encouraging them to irregularly cross the borders of the European Union, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, according to reports by international entities, European governments and some immigrants.
In a first survey released on Thursday by the IOM (UN agency for immigration), which interviewed 100 asylum seekers, more than half said they had come to Lithuania after having heard that entry into the country was facilitated.
The Baltic country accuses Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukachenko of spreading these rumors. Lithuania is seen as the regime’s main rival because it housed the leading independent candidate in 2020, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, when she was forced into exile.
Since the election, not recognized by the EU, Lukachenko has already suffered four rounds of sanctions from the European bloc, in addition to similar restrictions from the US, UK and Canada.
Western countries want him to release political prisoners, stop the crackdown on his critics and call for new free and fair elections. The dictator, in turn, denies fraud in the elections and claims that the protests for his resignation are being fomented by rival countries, in order to destabilize him.
Lukachenko had publicly threatened to relax controls on the passage of immigrants, but he denies that he is deliberately using them to attack the European Union.
The number of foreigners from Belarus trying to illegally enter the EU’s three neighbors has multiplied several times in recent months, leading Poland on Thursday to declare a state of emergency in the border region. The three countries also began construction of barbed wire and concertina fences on their borders with Belarusian territory.
According to Lithuanian data, 4,146 foreigners entered the Belarus border this year, more than half of them in July. In August, the country issued a decree to prevent entry into its country. Estimates are that since then about 5,000 people have been prevented from passing.
Of those who entered, 1,200 are women, 22 of whom are pregnant. This Thursday, one of the immigrants gave birth to the first baby born on Lithuanian soil during this crisis. The government has stated that mother and child will be housed in a school adapted as a Refugee Reception Center.
One of the Lithuanian government’s concerns is to build facilities for immigrants before the harsh winter — temperatures in the country are approaching zero as of October. There are 1,300 minors sheltered in the camps, 200 of whom are under the age of three, and some are still housed in tents.