Brussels (Brussels Morning) Lithuania has accused Belarus of illegally pushing migrants across the border on Tuesday, with Minsk rejecting the accusation and accusing the Lithuanian border service of abusing migrants.
Lithuanian authorities say 12 Belarusian officers entered the country illegally to push migrants across the border, according to BBC reporting on Wednesday.
Over 4,000 migrants, largely from Iraq, have entered Lithuania illegally from Belarus this year, with crossings spiking in June, after the EU imposed a new package of sanctions against Belarus.
The bloc introduced sanctions against Belarus over the country’s crackdown on anti-government protests, the forced landing of a commercial flight and the subsequent arrest of anti-government activist and journalist Roman Protasevich in May.
Lithuania and other EU member states have accused Belarus of taking in migrants from the Middle East and sending them across the EU border in response to the sanctions, with Minsk rejecting the accusations.
Friction between Lithuania and Belarus has increased in recent months and bilateral relations deteriorated further over the incident on Tuesday.
Video evidence released
Lithuanian State Border Guard Service (VSAT) released a video which shows 12 Belarusian officers in riot gear standing over a ditch through which migrants are moving towards Lithuania.
The video later shows the officers entering the ditch, with the VSAT indicating that the ditch marks the border. According to the Lithuanian Interior Ministry, Belarusian officers “forcibly pushed” 35 migrants across the border, with Minister Agnė Bilotaitė stressing that border patrols will be stepped up in response.
Belarusian Border Guard Service released a video earlier which does not show its officers, but shows Lithuanian guards grappling with migrants, and accused Lithuania of ignoring “all requests for asylum.”
Polish officials noted on Wednesday that the situation there was comparable to that in Lithuania, with the government deploying 900 troops to strengthen the border.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned Belarus on Tuesday for “weaponising migrants” to “undermine security” of the bloc.