EU Summons Belarus Envoy Over Migrant Stream to Lithuania

EU Summons Belarus Envoy Over Migrant Stream to Lithuania
Lithuanian and European Union flags flutter at the Lithuanian border guards unit headquarters near Adutiskis, Lithuania, on June 15, 2021. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

BRUSSELS—The European Union has summoned the Belarusian envoy in Brussels and held talks with the Iraqi government after accusing Belarus of using illegal migrants, largely Iraqis, as a political weapon against EU sanctions imposed on Minsk.

A spokesperson said the European Commission summoned the envoy on Wednesday in protest over a refugee problem that Lithuania says Belarus has orchestrated on its border in retaliation for EU sanctions.

“These practices must stop and Belarus must respect its international commitments in combating irregular migration and human trafficking and migrant smuggling,” the Commission spokesperson told a news conference.

Lithuania has reported a surge in illegal border crossings from Belarus and accused Minsk of flying in migrants from abroad and dispatching them to cross the border.

Belarus in May decided to let migrants enter Lithuania in retaliation for EU sanctions meted out after Minsk forced a Ryanair flight to land on its soil and arrested a dissident blogger who was on board. President Alexander Lukashenko said Belarus would not become a “holding site” for migrants from Africa and the Middle East.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and other EU officials have also sought a solution with the Iraqi government that could include a suspension of flights from Baghdad to Minsk.

There is growing speculation that an extraordinary online meeting of EU interior ministers will convene in mid-August, normally a holiday period for EU institutions, on the migrant issue, although this is still to be confirmed.

By Philip Blenkinsop