EU countries have accused Belarus of deliberately pushing migrants across its borders, especially from Lithuania, in retaliation for sanctions imposed in June.
Lithuanian border forces have accused Belarus of pushing migrants across the border while Belarus made a counterclaim, accusing Lithuanian guards of being violent towards migrants.
The European Union countries accused Belarus on Wednesday of conducting “a direct attack” by pushing asylum seekers across its border. The union also says Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko orchestrated the arrival of thousands of people at the borders of Lithuania, Latvia and Poland in retaliation for sanctions imposed on the former Soviet republic.
Interior ministers of the 27-nation EU said in a statement to be issued after an emergency meeting that Belarus was seeking to "instrumentalise human beings for political purposes".
"This aggressive behaviour ... is unacceptable and amounts to a direct attack aimed at destabilizing and pressurizing the EU," they said in the statement seen by Reuters.
At least 4,100 migrants, dominantly from Iraq, have entered the EU member Lithuania from its neighbouring Belarus this year.
The number of illegal crossings has started to increase since June when the EU imposed sanctions on the Belarusian economy to respond to “the escalation of serious human rights violations in Belarus and the violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition and journalists as well as to the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk on 23 May 2021 and the related detention of journalist Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega.”
Lithuania and the EU believe that Belarus is flying from the Middle East to Minsk and then intentionally driving them north towards its borders, in retaliation for the sanctions. However, Belarus denied this claim.
Lukashenko has said he will no longer hold back migrants due to the sanctions imposed after a disputed presidential election last year and a subsequent crackdown on protesters and dissidents.
The EU ministers expressed their solidarity with Lithuania, together with Latvia and Poland, and said they have already been provided with financial and technical assistance to manage the migrant crisis, and more could be sent as required.
Lithuania's Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said the installation of a fence and a monitoring system could cost more than 500 million Euros ($585 million), and that her country was hoping for support from the EU.
"The European Commission has allocated 37 million euros of emergency aid to Lithuania to meet immediate needs," she said in a statement. "However, already in September, Lithuania intends to apply for additional financial support."
A total of 4,124 people - largely Iraqis - have crossed into Lithuanian territory illegally this year, mostly in July, though only 14 entered between Aug. 5 and 17, as Lithuania and its neighbour Latvia began pushing back those trying to enter.
Poland has sent more than 900 troops to help secure its border with Belarus, its defence minister said on Wednesday, after a surge in illegal border crossings.