The Lithuanian government said it repatriated 98 people to Iraq over the weekend. It was the first chartered flight to repatriate migrants from Belarus.
Lithuania’s interior ministry said a plane carrying 98 Iraqi nationals took off from Vilnius on Sunday (January 2) for the capital Baghdad and the city of Erbil in northern Iraq. Iraqis entered Lithuania illegally from neighboring Belarus, the ministry said. He added that the repatriation had taken place with the consent of the Iraqis on board the flight.
According to a Press release by the Interior Ministry since Monday, January 3, the chartered flight to return migrants to Iraq is the first of its kind. Speaking to local media, Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite called the event “historic”, while Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis thanked the European Union and Iraq for their contributions during the the refugee crisis in Belarus.
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Almost 4,200 arrivals in Lithuania
In recent months, thousands of migrants, mostly from Middle Eastern countries, have tried to reach EU countries Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, crossing borders from Belarus.
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko is accused of deliberately sending refugees to his country and encouraging them to cross EU borders. Almost 4,200 refugees have crossed the Lithuanian border to seek asylum. The authorities responded by strengthening border security and erecting a border fence for hundreds of kilometers.
Those who crossed the Lithuanian border were first detained in five reception camps, which currently host 3,166 people, according to the news agency. dpa reports. In early August, border guards began pushing migrants back to the border.
Others have been returned to their countries of origin – according to the aforementioned press release, a total of 537 migrants have been repatriated, 482 of them voluntarily. Lithuania offers voluntary returnees a one-time payment of € 1,000, but the offer only lasts until January 20. Additional charter flights would be planned.
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