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Border crisis shocked Lithuania – preparing for a new crisis

– If you asked me a year ago whether the migrant crisis could happen in Lithuania, I would have answered that it is impossible, says Kristina Medi, Secretary General of the Red Cross of Lithuania.

She receives at the headquarters of the relief organization, the top floor of a brick house in the center of Vilnius. In the corridor, boxes of essentials are stacked along the walls.

– A few months ago, chests were everywhere. She says you had to get past this, and pushes herself along one wall to show up.

double crunch

When suddenly in July 200 migrants a day began to enter Lithuania from the border with Belarus, the Red Cross realized that a crisis was imminent. In one month, 3,000 people entered Lithuania, the infrastructure of which, according to the Red Cross, is able to receive 500 refugees – annually.

The country, hard hit by the pandemic, was in the middle of the vaccination process and there were only a handful of volunteers.

But help, money and gifts flowed in. Soon 400 new members were working on building the tents and providing the migrants with essentials. With autumn approaching and the need for warmer clothing, it just so happened that little bits bearing “good luck” or other supporting words were hidden in the pockets of donated clothing.

At the beginning of the crisis, they were living in 35 makeshift camps. In tents or old Soviet schools in the forests of the border region, without heating and with poor facilities.

The crisis occurred in the middle of summer and it was a good time and season. But had it happened in December, we would have faced much greater challenges, Mead says.

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Since then, the migrants have been moved to a few large refugee camps where hot food is available, beds and medical care are available.

– The situation is much better, says Midi.

“Flight Show”

Now the temperature is dropping towards zero and on the border with neighboring Poland, thousands are stuck between countries. Pictures of children trying to keep warm by burning plastic bottles circulated on the Internet and about 12 people died, most likely from cooling. One of them was a 14-year-old boy, he reported Red Cross.

– They have fallen victim to other people’s plans. There are women and children. Midi says I feel very pity for them.

In Lithuania, a fence is now being built along the heavily guarded border. Since August, migrants have been rejected and a state of emergency has prevailed in the border region for just over a week. The Red Cross, which is very active in refugee housing, offered to help her at the border, but received a cold hand. Instead, they help the border police with packages of aid that they, in turn, can provide to rejected immigrants.

Trinidad and Tobago: Is this system working well?

– I can’t answer this. I can not control it.

More volunteers

The situation in Lithuania this summer has become very interesting. If something good comes out of everything, it’s just the thing, according to Christina Mead. Understanding increased the possibility of unexpected crises, of any kind.

– Now we are discussing what we can prepare and what we should prepare. We are trying to understand what could happen, how we should do it and the staff we need.

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TT: So you are better prepared now than you were before the crisis?

– Yes sure. She says this applies not only to equipment or humanitarian aid packages but also to the number of material hands and volunteers.

Cardboard in the buildings of the Red Cross in Vilnius. Photo: Mykolas Juodele / TT

Kristina Medi, Secretary General of the Lithuanian Red Cross, in her office in Vilnius.

Kristina Medi, Secretary General of the Lithuanian Red Cross, in her office in Vilnius. Photo: Mykolas Juodele / TT

Facts: The European Union and Belarus

Alexander Lukashenko has led Belarus since 1994. His increasingly authoritarian rule has earned him the nickname “Europe’s Last Dictator” and led to wide-ranging sanctions from the European Union, among other countries — not least after the regime’s harsh crackdown on dissent and activists after the August 2020 presidential election, which Western countries condemned it as falsified in favor of the regime.

The European Union has imposed visa bans and potential asset freezes on a large number of Belarusian leaders, officials and companies. Trade sanctions were also imposed on Belarusian export heavy industries as well as on the state-owned airline Belavia.

The fact that thousands of migrants and refugees are trying to enter Poland through Belarus is considered in the European Union orchestrated by the Lukashenko regime and described as a reaction to EU sanctions.

In Lithuania, just over 4,200 people entered the country this year. Since the border closed in August, more than 7,000 migrants have been stopped.

Facts: Lithuania’s borders

With a population of 2.7 million, Lithuania is the most populous country in the Baltic states (Estonia has a population of just over 1.3 million and Latvia is around 1.9 million).

The country borders Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east, and Poland and Kaliningrad to the south.

Parliament agreed to reinforce the 680-kilometer border with Belarus with a fence after migrants, mostly from the Middle East, traveled to Belarus and then tried to enter Lithuania and Poland to seek asylum or a better life in the European Union, all apparently arranged. Good memory and help the Belarusian system.

Work on strengthening the border began in July. Lithuania will receive nearly 37 million euros from the European Commission to help migrants with housing, food and more.