Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite announced on August 3 she has allowed border guards to push migrants illegally crossing the Lithuanian-Belarusian back to Belarus and divert them to border checkpoints or diplomatic representations. Push backs are criticised by human rights organisations for violating the human rights of potential refugees.
"To protect the state border and to prevent persons who plan to cross the border in illegal places from entering Lithuania's territory, an order has been made to oblige them to use legal ways of crossing the border or asking for asylum and to divert persons to the nearest operating international border checkpoint or diplomatic representation," the interior ministry said in a statement on August 2.
According to the ministry, Bilotaite ordered "all institutions" to "take all additional measures provided by the law".
"Officers from the State Border Guard Service (VSAT) are competent and experienced to apply tactical measures in such situations. Lithuania's border must be protected with all legal means from any illegal crossing of the state border as an instrument of hybrid aggression Lithuania is now being subjected to," the interior minister said in the statement.
"Persons intentionally trying to cross the state border in banned places should be considered persons who plan to commit a criminal act, an illegal border crossing," she added.
The rightwing Lithuanian government has drawn criticism for its increasingly hardline response to the migrant influx from Belarus, which it blames on a deliberate policy of President Alexander Lukashenko's regime.
Push backs – when refuguees and migrants are forced back over a border, without consideration of their individual circumstances and without any possibility to apply for asylum or to put forward arguments against the measures taken – violate the prohibition of collective expulsions stipulated in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Nearly 4,000 irregular migrants have entered Lithuania illegally through the Lithuanian-Belarusian border this year.