Riga, Nov 2 (EFE).- The Latvian government voted Wednesday to extend a state of emergency at the border with Belarus that has been in force since the late summer of 2021 to tackle irregular migrant crossings.
The extension, which grants extraordinary powers to border guards and other authorities to prevent the irregular crossings, was adopted despite objections from the Latvian justice ministry which said permanent changes to laws and regulations would need to be passed rather than regularly extending the emergency legislation.
The emergency was first declared on August 11, 2021, in response to a surge of thousands of migrants from the Middle East who were allegedly lured to Belarus by cheap charter flights and promises of chances to cross into the European Union across the borders with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Local media quoted a statement by the justice ministry saying that there is no legal basis for extending the state of emergency, which has been in place in respective municipalities for more than a year.
Prime minister Krisjanis Karins, who heads an interim government after his New Unity (JV) party won the October 1 elections, said changing laws relating to the border would fall to the next coalition government, which he has been mandated to form but which is still being negotiated.
According to Latvia’s interior ministry, a total of 7,562 people have been prevented from illegally crossing the state border since August 10, 2021.
The ministry said there had been a new surge of attempts to cross from Belarus since August this year.
Under the emergency, persons may only cross the border at official crossing points and anyone attempting to cross elsewhere will be turned back.
The policy characterized as “push backs” has been criticized as cruel and in violation of international human rights law in a recent and controversial report by Amnesty International.
That report, strongly disputed by Latvian officials, claimed that Latvian authorities, including the State Border Guard Service, had broken international law and violated – sometimes with violence – the human rights of those attempting to cross into the Baltic country from Belarus.
In a statement issued in response to the October 12 Amnesty report, the interior ministry and the State Border Guard said they “reject the absurd statements mentioned in the report and the unverified expressions of certain persons about the situation on the Latvian-Belarusian border regarding ‘arbitrary detention and torture of refugees and migrants’.” EFE