Iraq to probe migrant smuggling to Lithuania via Belarus

Iraq to probe migrant smuggling to Lithuania via Belarus
Iraq has vowed to investigate the smuggling of migrants to Lithuania, which has accused neighbouring Belarus of encouraging illegal migration amid tense relations between the two east European countries.
2 min read
Fuad Hussein (right) and Gabrielius Landsbergis met in Baghdad to discuss migrant smuggling [Getty]

Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein vowed Thursday to investigate the alleged smuggling of Iraqi migrants into EU member Lithuania via Belarus.

At a joint news conference in Baghdad with his Lithuanian counterpart Gabrielius Landsbergis, Hussein said his government will launch a probe into "the plan to smuggle Iraqis into Europe".

"We will not accept smugglers in our society," he said. "It's our duty to protect our citizens, whether they be inside or outside the country."

Belarusian opposition media charge that the influx of migrants, a hot button issue for European governments, is a retaliatory move by autocrat Alexander Lukashenko following EU sanctions against his regime.

During a visit to a Lithuanian border town of Medininkai earlier this month, EU Council President Charles Michel said "there is the suspicion indeed that there is a role played by the Belarusian regime".

Last week, Lithuania announced it will build a border wall with Belarus to stem the flow of migrants from Africa and the Middle East arriving from the ex-Soviet country.

So far this year, Lithuanian border guards have detained more than 1,500 migrants arriving from Belarus, compared with 81 for all of 2020.

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"Our neighbour is falsely using Iraqi people to pressure my country and the European Union... We feel Iraqis are being promised an easy trip to Europe and they end up in the forest," Landsbergis said.

"They were lied to [by people smugglers] and spent a lot of money... There's a mutual need to stop this network of illegal migration," he added.

A nation of 2.8 million, Lithuania is struggling to cope with the unprecedented spike, as its military expands tent camps.

Tensions between Minsk and Vilnius soared last year after Lithuania became a hub for the Belarusian opposition, following a disputed presidential election.