President Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday that Belarus would close parts of the country’s border with Lithuania in order to stop migrants who have crossed into Lithuania from coming back.
“From today, no one will be allowed to cross the border from any side, neither from the south nor from the west,’’ Lukashenko said.
According to state agency Belta, the move came after Belarus appeared to allow migrants, mainly from war-torn countries, to enter Lithuania, a member of the European Union (EU), in what is believed to be retaliation for sanctions imposed on Minsk by the bloc.
The EU accuses Belarus of deliberately allowing migrants to cross its border towards the European Union, after Lukashenko openly threatened to allow refugees from countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to enter the bloc.
Several hundred migrants have entered Lithuania from Belarus in recent weeks.
This year so far, some 3,500 people have been apprehended crossing the 680-kilometre border with Belarus. Most have applied for asylum.
EU border agency Frontex has sent additional personnel to Lithuania in recent weeks, in an attempt to prevent further illegal border crossings.
The spat came after a year of protests in Belarus, unleashed when large parts of society disputed Lukashenko’s election win.
The EU imposed sanctions on Belarus for human rights abuses in response to peaceful demonstrations and the violent repression of civil society.
Lithuania is one of the biggest supporters of the Belarusian democracy movement and has long been a refuge for Belarusian opposition figures.