Lithuanian Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė has allowed border guards to push irregular migrants entering Lithuania back to Belarus and divert them to border checkpoints or diplomatic representations.
"To protect the state border and to prevent persons who plan to cross the border in illegal places from entering Lithuania's territory, an order has been made to oblige them to use legal ways of crossing the border or asking for asylum and to divert persons to the nearest operating international border checkpoint or diplomatic representation," the Interior Ministry said in a statement on Monday.
According to the ministry, Bilotaitė ordered "all institutions" to "take all additional measures provided by the law".
"Officers from the State Border Guard Service (VSAT) are competent and experienced to apply tactical measures in such situations. Lithuania's border must be protected with all legal means from any illegal crossing of the state border as an instrument of hybrid aggression Lithuania is now being subjected to," the interior minister said in the statement.
"Persons intentionally trying to cross the state border in banned places should be considered persons who plan to commit a criminal act, an illegal border crossing," she added.
Lina Laurinaitytė-Grigienė, spokeswoman for the interior minister, told BNS that under the latest decision, migrants could be pushed back while already in Lithuania's territory and also while still in Belarus.
Bilotaitė said pushing back migrants is allowed under international law if such a decision is temporary and if migrants are offered an alternative to seek asylum.
According to Bilotaitė, foreigners are being invited to Belarus as a safe territory with no ongoing military conflicts Therefore, the Interior Ministry said that a foreign citizen who arrives in Belarus for tourism is able to depart using the same legal way.
The ministry also said that Belarus, having made decisions on offering the visa-free regime to various countries in the world, is itself unilaterally failing to comply with border treaties.
Around 4,000 irregular migrants have entered Lithuania from Belarus so far this year. Lithuanian officials say the Minsk regime is facilitating the crossings, calling it "hybrid aggression" against the country.
The decision by the Interior Ministry came shortly following Monday's visit of European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson to Lithuania.