Poland, Lithuania fear new migrant crisis due to Belarus’ offer of visa-free travel

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — Belarus is introducing a visa-free travel arrangement with dozens of countries for a month, raising fears that neighboring Poland and Lithuania might see a sudden increase in unauthorized migration.

The authoritarian president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, signed a decree allowing citizens of 73 countries — including ones in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America — to travel to Belarus without a visa to attend an annual music festival he personally opens to promote his nation’s global integration.

Festival ticket holders will be able to enter Belarus without a visa from July 4-23.

The governments of Lithuania and Poland see the move as a threat that will bring another influx of migrants, such as those who massed at borders with the European Union in the thousands in 2021 after transiting through Belarus.

The governments of Lithuania and Poland accuse the Belarusian authorities of orchestrating the earlier situation. Stanislaw Zaryn, the acting deputy to Poland’s minister coordinator of special services, charged that Russia and Belarus might try to repeat it with the monthlong visa-free program.

He alleged the goal was to destabilize Europe, including Poland, by creating an illegal route leading from Belarus to the West.

“The migration facilitation introduced, if successful, may lead to an increase in the influx of people to Belarus, which Lukashenko’s services will use to intensify the hybrid operation conducted on our eastern border,” wrote on Twitter.

Poland built a fence on the border with Belarus in response to the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from the Middle East and Afghanistan, in 2021-2022. Polish border guards daily report dozens of attempts to illegally enter the EU by African and Middle Eastern migrants passing through Belarus.

The Lithuanian government thinks Belarus could try to provoke Middle Eastern migrants at the border during a July 11-12 NATO summit to be held in its capital, Vilnius, Rustamas Liubajevas, commander of the State Border Guard Service of Lithuania, said.

Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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