Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda says he has been assured by European Council President Charles Michel that the EU will press Iraq via its visa policy to resolve the migrant crisis in Lithuania.
“In some aspects, the European Union has certain leverage it can use, for example, when it comes to Iraq. Leverage that Lithuania, as an individual country, does not have. Specifically, the visa issuance policy,” the president told reporters on Tuesday.
“Mr Michel has assured me that he is ready to use that leverage and will do that in the near future,” he added.
Lithuania has seen an unprecedented spike of irregular migration in recent months, with over 4,000 people stopped after crossing from Belarus. Most of the migrants are Iraqi nationals.
The European Union is now in negotiation with Baghdad and wants it to take back Iraqi migrants who have come to Lithuania via Belarus. Meanwhile, Iraqi airlines plan to launch flights to Minsk not only from Baghdad, but also from three other cities: Basra, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah.
European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson, who visited Lithuania on Monday, said she had proposed measures for third countries, if they failed to meet their international commitments. The European commissioner added, however, that the decision needs to be made by the European Council.
President Nausėda said he did not discuss “Lithuania's legislative initiatives specifically” with the European Council president, but gave Michel “a general impression” of what Lithuania plans to do next.
On Monday night, Lithuanian Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė signed a decree instructing border guards to push back migrants trying to cross the border and direct them to border checkpoints or diplomatic representations.
Moreover, the Lithuanian parliament is set to hold an extraordinary session next week to consider proposed amendments that would allow the military to get involved in patrolling the border.
“We mainly spoke about funding the construction of a wall,” the Lithuanian president said.
Lithuania's State Border Guard Service has proposed to build a 4-meter-high chain-link fence on the border with Belarus at a cost of over 150 million euros.