2021.11.21 10:00

Lithuanian NGOs mobilise to prep aid for migrants pushed back to Belarus

LRT.lt2021.11.21 10:00

In a garage near the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, volunteers pack food, matches, hand and feet warmers into plastic bags to be handed out to migrants at the border with Belarus.

“It will not overturn the plight of the migrants, but this is the best I can do. So, I try to help,” Domantas Žėkas, one of the volunteers, told Reuters.

Last week, around 6,000 packages of food that include tinned beef, beans, and corn, as well as instant noodles and cookies were assembled by volunteers working in shifts. The supplies are packed by whoever turns up on the day.

Read more: Migration crisis in Baltics and Poland

The food is provided by organisations, such as the Red Cross, the International Organisation for Migration, and Caritas. It is packed in cooperation with Lithuania's border guards, who provide the garage and distribute the packs to migrants they meet while patrolling on the border, according to Reuters.

“The migrants are really happy, they gladly take the charity, say ‘thank you good Lithuanians’, and applaud. It motivates us,” Darius Škarnulis, head of Vilnius border guards, told Reuters.

Read more: Lithuanian border guards publish video of migrant pushback, testimony of beatings by Belarusians

Over 4,200 irregular migrants have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus so far this year.

Around 7,000 migrants have been turned away since early August when border guards were given the right not to let in foreign nationals who attempt to enter Lithuania at non-designated places.

Activists say the pushback policy leaves migrants in vulnerable and desperate situations, as the Belarusian authorities do not allow them to return to their home countries, and they are stranded in forests at the border.

But volunteers packing the aid up in the garage did not discuss the situation at the border.

"We do not participate in pushbacks, and we did not create this situation. We can at least take care of the humanitarian side of it so that people can survive," Caritas coordinator, Vaida Martusevičiūtė, told Reuters.

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