RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
Lithuania has dismissed Belarusian allegations that an Iraqi man was beaten and died after being turned away at the Lithuanian border, describing it as "disinformation."
EU member Lithuania has faced a surge of mostly Iraqi migrants in recent months, prompting authorities this week to start pushing back illegal migrants and giving border guards authority to use force.
Lithuanian and European officials say the migrant flows are being orchestrated by Alyaksandr Lukashenka in retaliation for EU sanctions over his government's crackdown on the opposition following Belarus's presidential election nearly a year ago that was widely considered to be fraudulent.
Belarusian border guards claimed on August 4 that they found an Iraqi man in "serious" condition near the border with Lithuania and he "died in the arms of the border guards," according to Lukashenka's Telegram channel.
"The president was immediately informed of this shocking murder of an Iraqi returning from Lithuania," the channel said.
But Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said such reports were "clear misinformation."
"A hybrid attack is being carried out against Lithuania and the dissemination of such disinformation are examples of this," the minister told reporters, adding that similar attempts to spread false news would likely be attempted in the future.
"It's nonsense, Brothers Grimm's tales," she added.
More than 4,000 migrants have been detained by Lithuanian authorities so far this year, officials say, compared to a total of 81 in 2020. Most have attempted to cross the 679-kilometer Lithuanian-Belarusian border in the past month.
More than two-thirds of them are Iraqi nationals who appear to have arrived in Minsk via increased direct flights from Baghdad.
Asked whether force had been used against any migrants trying to enter the country, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said she had no information about "any excesses."
"I am not aware of any information about any excesses that would have taken place in Lithuania or on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border. The Belarusian government is responsible for what is happening in Belarus,” she told reporters after a government meeting.
Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas said of the reports about the death of an Iraqi man that it amounted to further provocation by the Belarusian government.
“In fact, by organizing that whole illegal journey, involving their officials in this activity, I think that they cannot always control the situation themselves,” Anusauskas said.
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