The seizure of the Athens-Vilnius plane by the illegitimate government almost completely destroyed relations between Belarus and Europe. However, according to tradition, the neighbors were to blame. In this connection, on May 26, Lukashenka saidthat Belarus could stop fighting drug trafficking and migration: “We stopped drugs and migrants – now you will eat and catch them yourself”. On the same day, Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makiej announced the suspension of cooperation between Belarus and the European Union on combating illegal migration and organised crime and nuclear safety. These threats are successfully enforced.
On June 2, Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania Agnė Bilotaitė announced an increase in the number of illegal migrants from Belarus: “We have heard statements by Alexander Lukashenko that they will flood us with illegal migrants and drugs, but we have been observing this trend of illegal migrants for some time. If we compare the numbers, then in five months of 2021, 189 illegal migrants came from Belarus to Lithuania, which is twice as much when compared with the previous year. From what we see, it is clear that Belarusian officials may be cooperating and participating in an organized illegal refugee flow.”
On 8 June, the head of the parliamentary national security and defence committee, Laurynas Kasčiūnas, said that far fewer migrants were being sent to Poland than to Lithuania, while in Latvia the number of irregular refugees was zero: “The flows of illegal migrants are linked to four weekly commercial airline flights from Baghdad and Istanbul to Minsk. Migrants have learned the phrase “political asylum”. After they uttered this word, Lithuania should begin the procedure of verifying the validity of the application for political asylum”.
The issue of the flow of irregular migrants from Belarus to Lithuania was raised back in April. On April 2, 2021, Lithuanian border guards detained a group of 15 Iraqi citizens in the Shalchininkai region. Among them were women and three children. The refugees had no documents. The Border Guard has launched an investigation into the illegal border crossing.
On April 21, 2021, border guards detained three people who illegally crossed the Belarusian-Lithuanian border near the village of Rakai in the Varėna region of Lithuania. Young people are citizens of Yemen, they are 22 and 24 years old. They were carrying backpacks with their personal belongings, but had no documents with them.
On May 3, 2021, Lithuanian border guards said that in the first three months of the year, about 90 people illegally crossed the border of Belarus and Lithuania. Most of the migrants – 59 people – are citizens of Iraq, with whom Minsk has direct flights. They get to the border by car. Among the illegally arrived there are also citizens of Tajikistan, Yemen, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Russia. Our border guards are reluctant to investigate cases of illegal immigrants crossing the border of Belarus and even refuse to meet with Lithuanian border guards when they detain violators. They have no reaction to the statements of their Lithuanian colleagues.
On June 4, 2021, the Lithuanian media reported about the detention of 52 foreigners on the border of Lithuania and Belarus in one day. After crossing the border, the illegal immigrants settled in the Shalchininkai region, they had no documents. All of them introduced themselves as citizens of Syria and Iraq. Two more Iraqi citizens ended up in the Vilnius region and also asked for asylum in Lithuania. The Lithuanian border guard service resettled the refugees in different areas.
On June 5, 2021, border guards found a group of 20 refugees in a forest in the Lazdijski region bordering on Belarus. One of them introduced himself as a citizen of Iraq, two were from Egypt, four migrants came from Tajikistan, 11 were Russian citizens. All migrants asked for asylum in Lithuania.
On June 6, 2021, border guards stopped three migrants, who introduced themselves as citizens of Afghanistan, in the Svenchen region of Lithuania. The men had no documents with them. The Lithuanian Border Guard interrogated the detainees and carried out an identification procedure. In total, over the weekend of June 5 and 6, 30 illegal migrants were detained. They represent themselves as citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey.
On June 8, 2021, 14 more illegal migrants were detained in the border regions of Ignalina and Lazdija. By that time, the total number of refugees arriving from Belarus had grown to 300 people, which is more than the total number three years earlier. There were practically no places left in the registration center for foreigners in Pabrada, and the military began to set up a tent city on the border. On June 11, fifteen more migrants were found in the border areas in groups of six and nine. The nationality of the refugees is being clarified.
The head of the State Border Guard Service, Rustam Lyubaev, noted that the Belarusian border guards hide the traces of illegal border crossing and, in response to all accusations, ask for evidence. The officers of the Belarusian border guard soon showed up at the place where the group of illegal migrants had been apprehended and cleaned up the traces of the border crossing. The Border Guard Service also announced the strengthening of control at the Belarusian-Lithuanian border.
On June 13, 2021, the statement of Uladzimir Makei was published. The Belarusian Foreign Minister called Lithuania a pygmy country and accused European countries of organizing terrorist attacks in Belarus: “Now the Western “talking heads” have agreed to the point that they are ready to act by any means and methods to achieve their own invented goals. Not only bribery, not only financing, not only information warfare, not only blackmail and intimidation. There have already been terrorist attacks in Belarus, eight cases in six months of last year, an attempted coup, and a war. Pygmy-Lithuania says that “we will continue to put pressure on Belarus, we will work with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.” They present themselves as giants who want to play an almost decisive role in our region and, perhaps, even in international politics.”
Poland also suffers from illegal immigrants from Belarus. On April 6, 2021, 15 Russian citizens of Chechen nationality tried to enter the country from the territory of Belarus. They were detained in the village of Melnik of the Podlasie Voivodeship, 400 meters from the Belarusian-Polish border. Illegals were placed in the registration centers for foreigners in Kentshin and Białystok.
During April, another group of illegal immigrants who crossed the Belarusian border was detained in Poland. On April 22, 2021, border guards discovered ten migrants and three Georgian citizens who helped them cross the border. The refugees turned out to be Russian citizens of Chechen origin and citizens of Tajikistan. Illegal migrants, by court order, were placed in centers for foreigners in Kentshin and Bialystok, and the Georgians who helped them get to Poland are awaiting punishment.
On May 8, 2021, in East Germany, near the border with Poland, a group of 9 Iraqis moving on foot along a motorway was detained. Among them are three teenagers and two children. All of them were brought into the European Union illegally through the Belarusian border. They said that their passports had been taken away from them in Belarus and they had had to pay 84,000 euros to enter the EU illegally.
On 25 May 2021, it was reported that eight Iranian nationals had entered Poland from Belarus. The group consisted of three children 9, 11 and 15 years old. The migrants were placed in camps in Kentshin and Białystok.
On June 2, 2021, 24 migrants were detained at the Polish border. Among them – 11 citizens of Afghanistan, 9 citizens of Russia of Chechen nationality, 2 citizens of Palestine, 1 citizen of Armenia and 1 citizen of Jordan. By the way, 110 people have been detained for illegal crossing of the Belarusian-Polish border since the beginning of the year, which is almost four times more than in the entire 2020.
Unlike their colleagues, Latvian border guards have not yet experienced a sharp increase in the flow of illegal migrants from Belarus. In recent weeks, only one case of illegal crossing of the Latvian-Belarusian border has been identified. However, the border guard service is fully prepared, given the situation in Lithuania and Poland.
How do migrants get to Belarus?
One of the assumptions made by the Lithuanian authorities is that citizens of Eastern countries arrive in Belarus and then get to the border. Even after the incident with Ryanair, the airlines of the CIS countries, Turkish and Iraqi airlines, continue to fly to Minsk airport. If you look at the geography of the refugees in the above cases, you can see that Iraq is just the «leader».
The development of tourism from Iraq to Belarus was the subject of discussion in 2013. In 2015, the director of the branch «Belinturist» of the state «CenterKurort» company Alexey Strelchenko said: «I hope that guests from countries with hot climates will enjoy the Belarusian nature and climate. And one of the goals of the visit of the Iraqis may be medical tourism». In 2016, «CenterKurort» reported that Iraqi tourists tend to come to Belarus for treatment. The government even promised Minsk hoteliers to provide up to a thousand overnight stays a month at the expense of Iraqi tourists. «It’s no secret, maybe someone has an idea to get to Europe through Belarus. But this topic will be closed to them», the head of the «President-hotel» Nikolay Podrezenko promised. In 2017, the director of «CenterKurort» Oleg Mikhailov once again noted that the organization works in the eastern directions and is very seriously engaged in Iraq.
Nowadays, on May 10, 2021, the Iraqi airline Fly Baghdad began to function flights to Minsk from Iraq. The carrier’s planes from Baghdad arrive in Minsk on Mondays and Thursdays – a Boeing 737-800, designed for almost 200 passengers. Twice a week – on Mondays and Fridays – Iraqi Airways company makes flights from Baghdad to Minsk. According to some sources, now it has started to use Boeing-777, capable of accommodating up to 550 passengers.
If Fly Baghdad is a private airline, the Iraqi Airways enterprise is 100% owned by the Government of Iraq. And Belarus has quite friendly relations with Iraq. On March 2, 2021, it became known that Iraq was among the leaders in the number of tourists in Belarus in 2020. On May 8, 2021, Lukashenko remembered friendship with the murdered Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who, according to him, transferred about a million dollars for the construction of the National Library in Minsk. On May 13, 2021, Lukashenko said that Belarus views Iraq as a promising political, trade and economic partner in the Middle East and noted that regular flights between the capitals of Belarus and Iraq create favourable conditions for the development of tourism, humanitarian contacts and the implementation of joint business projects. The increase in tourism contributes to the fact that Iraqi citizens can get a visa directly at the National Airport on arrival.
Also, two companies fly to Belarus from Istanbul: the domestic Belavia and Turkish Airlines. Turkish Airlines is 49% state-owned, 51% – to businessmen. In 2011, the company supported the competition among IT companies for achievements in the field of information technology «Golden Byte». In 2014, the chairman of the Council of the Republic Anatoly Rubinov discussed with the management of the company the rise of the number of flights between Minsk and Istanbul. In 2019, on the boards of Turkish Airlines, the tourist videos about Belarus were shown to attract tourists to the II European Games in Minsk. The airline was one of the first who returned regular flights to Belarus in 2020. Every day Turkish Airlines completes two flights from Istanbul to Minsk on Airbus A321 aircraft, which is ready for 220 passengers.
Turkish Airlines planes fly to airports in almost all countries of the world. With a transfer in Istanbul, you can get to Belarus from Australia, the United States, Chile, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and many other countries with which our country does not have direct flights. For example, the journey from Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, to Minsk takes 13 hours and 20 minutes, from Amman, the capital of Jordan – 7 hours, and Beirut, Lebanon – a little more than six hours.
Cooperation between Belarus and Turkey is also developing quite fruitfully. On May 7, 2021, Lukashenko and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed the international agenda and regional issues and also agreed to increase the bilateral trade turnover to $ 1.5 billion. On May 28, 2021, Erdogan supported Lukashenko’s actions in the Ryanair incident. Turkish representatives insisted that the NATO resolution should exclude references to sanctions and releasing the detainees – Roman Protasevich and Sofya Sapieha.
The warm relations between Belarus and Turkey are not affected by the fact that Lukashenko supports Bashar al-Assad in the military conflict in Syria, and Turkey supports Sunni rebels. Lukashenko constantly demonstrates interest in developing a comprehensive partnership with Egypt. And Egypt, together with Israel, Cyprus and Greece, form an anti-Turkish coalition. Cooperation between the two countries does not stop, including in the field of security. In 2019, it became known about Turkey’s interest in joint military developments. In 2020, the Belarusian Ambassador to Turkey Viktor Rybak said that a memorandum of understanding was signed between the State Military-Industrial Committee of Belarus and the Presidium of the Defense Industry of the Turkish Presidential Administration. It is quite possible that this memorandum also includes revenge on the European Union, with which Turkey has no mutual understanding.
There is no doubt that illegal migrants are Lukashenko’s revenge on his European neighbours. By such actions, the illegitimate president is increasingly alienating Belarus from the European Union, showing the low importance of laws and good neighborly relations for him. The well-being of neighboring countries also depends on the actions of the Belarusian people – by removing Lukashenko, we will not only ensure a quiet life for ourselves, but also save Poland and Lithuania from smuggling and illegal migration.