Lithuania’s move to turn away migrants at its border with Belarus does not comply with international law, the Red Cross has warned.
The Baltic country has seen a surge in migrant arrivals in recent months, something Vilnius claims is being orchestrated by long-time Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko as revenge for EU sanctions against Minsk.
This week Lithuania said it reserved the right to use force to stop such illegal immigration and said it had turned away 180 people attempting to enter the country.
But rights groups noted that all nations have an obligation to protect vulnerable people.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Egle Samuchovaite, programme director for Lithuania’s Red Cross, stated that “pushbacks of people seeking asylum are not compatible with the Geneva Convention on Refugee Status, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and other human rights instruments”.
Rejecting the admission of vulnerable people into the country would put them into an unsafe environment, trapped between two countries, Samuchovaite said.
“In the absence of a physical border barrier with Belarus, the question arises as to how to ensure that there is no disproportionate use of force against asylum seekers, which by any means could not be justified,” she said, adding that the Red Cross understands the state’s challenges in protecting its border.
Lithuania, a nation of fewer than 3 million people, has no physical barriers for its 679-kilometre long border with Belarus. Some 4,090 migrants, most of them from Iraq, have crossed this year from Belarus into Lithuania.
Another 35 people crossed into Lithuania illegally on Wednesday, according to the State Border Guard Service, but this was significantly lower than the triple-digit numbers of previous days.
Belarus claimed on Wednesday that a “non-Slavic” person died from injuries at a border town, but Lithuania dismissed the report as propaganda from a hostile regime.
“This is nonsense, a Brothers Grimm fairy tale,” Lithuania Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite told reporters.
Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas called the report “an obvious provocation. Lithuania is under hybrid attack and spreading such information is a classic example of this process”.
Later on Wednesday, the Belarusian State Border Committee claimed that five Iraqi migrants who were forcibly expelled to Belarus from Lithuania had injuries, including dog bites, and had been hospitalised.