2020.09.30 13:00

Is Lithuania ready to accommodate refugees from Belarus?

Joana Lapėnienė, LRT TV, LRT.lt2020.09.30 13:00

The protests in Belarus show no sign of abating. As of late September, dozens of Belarusians have used the humanitarian corridor to flee across the border. If an increasing number of people are forced to leave, is Lithuania ready to accommodate them?

According to the Interior Ministry, Lithuania has no experience in managing thousands of refugees. The officials are currently consulting with the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to prepare for such an eventuality.

Lithuania would need to make difficult decisions if the refugee flow increased significantly, said Interior Vice Minister Tautvydas Tamulevičius, Currently, the country has nowhere to house those fleeing the Belarusian regime, so it would need to build temporary refugee camps.

Mečys Laurinkus, former head of the Lithuanian intelligence service, the State Security Department, said that tensions in Belarus might reach the peak in the coming couple of weeks coinciding with the parliamentary election in Lithuania.

Read more: After falsely proclaimed dead, Belarus 'first victim' finds refuge in Lithuania

He called for the group of surveillance experts to develop a strategy to deal with potential Belarusian provocations, adding that the president must also assume greater leadership due to the upcoming transition period due to the parliamentary elections in October.

According to Petras Vaitiekūnas, Lithuania’s former foreign minister and ambassador to Belarus, the country must provide refuge for those persecuted, especially because this could also be beneficial to Lithuania.

“Belarusians can and want to work here [in Lithuania]. We need more workforce in every area, so we have to invite these people and help them find jobs and accommodation,” Vaitiekūnas said.

But Interior Vice Minister Tamulevičius said the country was already processing a large number of asylum claims. The load might increase even further in the coming weeks, putting a strain on the country’s institutions.

“The flow of refugees will depend on how freely they will be allowed to leave Belarus. […] The regime might also use the increased flow of refugees as a means of additional pressure on us,” Tamulevičius said.

Read more: Belarusians in Lithuania protest Lukashenko’s ‘farce’ inauguration