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On migrants, it’s one hypocritical EU rule for Lithuania and another for bogeyman Viktor Orban

When European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen fronted up in Vilnius a couple of weeks ago, her decision to lend enthusiastic support to the Lithuanians in their bid to stem the flow of migrants across the border from neighbouring Belarus was a remarkable change of approach. 

Ever keen to roll out the heavily armed soldiers that comprise Frontex – the EU’s border and coast guard force whose offers of help are most often rebuffed – von der Leyen said personnel would be deployed not just to Lithuania but to Latvia, which also borders Belarus, to help repel illegal migrants. 

“Your worries and your problems here in Lithuania are European worries and problems,” von der Leyen reassured Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte. “We really stand by your side in this difficult time.” 

It was the sort of talk you hear from allies when nations go into battle, not what you’d expect when talking about immigration and Lithuania. 

Let’s put this into perspective. At the start of this month, figures showed that 822 migrants crossing from Belarus have been detained in Lithuania so far this year, up from just 81 for the whole of 2020. Lithuania is obviously not the asylum seekers’ destination of choice. Compare that to the UK’s single-day record of 430 illegal migrants detected crossing the English Channel on Monday this week. 

While von der Leyen’s show of solidarity from Brussels no doubt went down well with the Lithuanian public, the host country’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis chose to engage somewhat more directly via Facebook, to scare off anyone even thinking of seeking asylum in Lithuania. 

And in case those reading his post were not literate in English, he posted his grim warning in Kurdish and Arabic as well. 

“Those people who tempt you with an easy way to get into the EU – they want to deceive you, they want to rob you of your money, exploiting your credulity or ignorance,” Landsbergis cautioned.  

“They promise you that after you‘ve paid a lot of money – and we know that you are paying thousands of Euros – you will arrive in the EU. They tell you that you will be able to live and work in the EU – and that they will ensure you cross the border into the EU.” 

His tale of terror tells of swindlers and criminals working in collaboration with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, trafficking gullible asylum seekers firstly into Lithuania’s neighbour and then “at night to the EU border,”where “they will let you out in the forest and will tell you: ‘go there, that‘s where Europe is, and nobody is guarding the border’. 

“This is a lie. You will be apprehended by the Lithuanian border guards and transferred to a tent camp. Because you were involved in a cunning crime, virtually no-one of you will receive an asylum and be recognised as a refugee. You will have to live in the tent camp until we find a way to send you home.” 

He ignores the Dublin regulation in place across the EU which provides that asylum seeker claims must be dealt with by the first member state in which they arrive, and here that’s Lithuania. Landsbergis should also know that, even with someone arriving illegally, clever human rights lawyers can tie up cases in court for months, and deporting someone to a country in which they face persecution is nigh on impossible. 

Just for a minute, suspend reality and imagine this dire warning to hopeful immigrants had been issued by the EU bad boy, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, instead of a senior politician in a Brussels-friendly Baltic state.  

Back in 2015, in the face of an influx of illegal migrants from non-EU member Serbia, Orban deployed the army to protect its 110-mile border with its Balkan neighbour, and images soon emerged of Hungarian border guards firing water cannons at migrants through a hastily built 11-foot-high razor wire fence.  

It was grim stuff, and a blunt reaction to a genuine crisis. But rather than supportive words for Budapest, fellow EU leaders turned on the Hungarian leader, with the Austrian chancellor comparing his actions to the Nazis, Romania’s prime minister advising that “aggressive laws, prison and brutality will not resolve problems,” and the Croatian PM saying that “barbed wire in Europe in the 21st century is not an answer, it’s a threat.”

Those responses six years ago signalled the real start of conservative Hungary’s distancing from the more compliant and centrist EU nations, to the point that Budapest, along with Warsaw, is now considered an outlier to be treated like an errant child and reprimanded when it steps out of line. 

Lithuania’s Landsbergis can exploit the misery of illegal immigrants for his Facebook account and stomp all over the humanitarian ideals of the EU, and no one in a position of power will utter a word. Except in support. After all, Vilnius is a fully fledged EU member and plays the game just the way Brussels likes it.  

It’s part of a club in which hypocrisy is no barrier to membership. In fact, it seems to be a requirement. 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

© 2021, paradox. All rights reserved.

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