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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Lithuania extends a warm welcome to Belarusians but rejecting Middle Easterners

The immigrants hitchhiked for the whole night to the Dysna River, which marked the boundary with their home country of Belarus. They were under the impression that they could wade through the icy waters, but the area they picked in haste turned out to be so deep that they had to swim.

On the other hand, they discovered a residence with a light turned on at the crack of morning two weeks ago and called the authorities. They were fleeing President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko’s autocratic dictatorship in Belarus and seeking refuge in Lithuania, which is a member of the European Union. In a makeshift camp at a border guard post, they joined scores of Iraqis, some Chechens, and someone from Southeast Asia in a desperate attempt to survive.

In the bogs and woodlands of northern Europe, two streams of migration, as well as two manifestations of human despair, are coming together. There are the Iraqis and others whom Mr. Lukashenko is diverting via Belarus into Lithuania and Poland, a migratory crisis created by an authoritarian keen to antagonise the West. Then there are the Syrians and others whom Mr. Lukashenko is channelling through Belarus into Lithuania and Poland. And then there are the Belarusians who have fled Mr. Lukashenko’s regime in the midst of a wave of persecution in Belarus that has resulted in thousands of arrests.

The two groups momentarily share the same destiny as they travel from East to West, bunking together in border camps and migrant detention facilities for a short time. However, their lives soon diverge once more: while the majority of Belarusians are promptly confirmed of their right to remain in Lithuania and are permitted to roam freely, the others are held in tiny containers for months while their asylum requests are almost certainly rejected.

In contrast to Belarus, the West has consistently supported the country’s resistance, illustrating the difficult moral choices that European nations are forced to make in order to keep migrants from other continents out of their countries. Small and ethnically homogenous, Lithuania is on the front lines of both migratory surges, positioning itself as a bastion of the West, sheltering Belarusian dissidents while denying access to others who do not share their views.

Since the rebellion against Mr. Lukashenko’s fraudulent re-election in 2020 started a crackdown in which anybody who sympathised with the opposition is a possible target, Lithuania has awarded more than 6,700 “humanitarian” visas to Belarusians. This year, it has granted refuge to 71 Belarusians who have applied for it. The United States State Department praised the nation last week for “providing a safe haven to several Belarusian democracy activists,” including opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who was granted asylum.

Compared to this, Ms. Gudzinskaite said that just 10 of the 2,639 asylum claims from non-Belarusians that Lithuania has handled since the beginning of the surge had been approved. The majority of the arrivals occurred before August, when Lithuania began prohibiting access into the country via unauthorised crossing sites, including for asylum seekers – a policy known as “pushbacks” that has been extensively condemned by human rights organisations.

According to Lithuania’s border guard agency, more than 7,000 migrants have been turned away from entering the nation since August. When they are apprehended trying to enter the nation illegally, Belarusians are not sent away; they are permitted to remain and apply for asylum, according to Rustamas Liubajevas, the commander of the service’s immigration division.

According to migrant activists, the difference between economic migrants and refugees is often artificial, and that many persons going through Belarus are escaping failing governments and violent regimes, and thus should be considered for international protection. However, Caritas, a Roman Catholic organisation that assists jailed migrants, has said that many of them may not be.

The Lukashenko administration increased flights from Middle Eastern locations and relaxed visa restrictions throughout the summer in what looked to be a planned effort to attract migrants who would subsequently attempt to enter into the nearby European Union countries of Lithuania, Poland, and Latvia. The majority of people want to go to nations in the west, such as Germany.

In the midst of the movement swarm, the pathways of Belarusians and other migrants cross at detention centres spread throughout the country of Lithuania. At one migrant camp, a Syrian barber told to his Belarusian tentmate that his family had spent their whole life savings to migrate to Europe and that they now had “no way back” to their home country. Dobriyanik encountered individuals leaving their home Chechnya area of Russia, who chanted anti-Putin slogans at him as he walked through the streets.

Eyad, who requested that his last name not be published in order to protect his Syrian parents, moved to Russia in 2018. He was born in Syria. Exasperated with his inability to make ends meet as an illegal immigrant in Moscow, where he claimed to work in factories and shawarma stands, Eyad heard on Facebook during the summer that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had opened his country’s borders to European Union members.

It was less than 100 individuals when Belarusian Andrei Susha arrived to the Rukla facility in April, according to the institution’s website. Following a summons to the police station, Mr. Susha boarded his motorised paraglider and flew to a field about 10 miles from the border with Russia, where he was facing jail for insulting internet statements against the government. It was one of the most audacious escapes from Belarus this year.

In the last week, Mr. Susha’s asylum application was accepted, ending a lengthy procedure that had been stalled for many Belarusians due to a backlog of applications. Several Eritreans were among the tiny number of non-Belarusian migrants who were granted refuge at the Rukla detention camp.

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