VILNIUS, Lithuania — Immigration into Lithuania is rare, although it wasn’t always that way.
Throughout the Baltics, Minsk granted citizenship to East European and Baltic residents on condition that they would move there permanently.
Over the years, Belarusian-Lithuanian migration increased along with the country’s prosperity, but efforts to keep out unregistered foreigners have begun to pay off in recent years. Lithuania this year revoked the citizenship of its third-largest city, Minsk, for an estimated 1,600 Belarusians living there, while another 1,200 are expected to be considered for removal.
Given that the region as a whole experienced a major decline in emigration over the past decade, some Baltic politicians have complained that their colleagues in Belarus and Russia are unfairly poaching their workers.
In Lithuania, the debate over citizenship has become the key political issue in the 2018 elections.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose party is expected to fare poorly in the vote, recently called on the country’s next president to help protect its borders, in particular against migrants from the Middle East.
While her government clamped down on migration, Lithuania’s two main opposition parties are pushing for a mandatory citizenship test.
In the eyes of some, the move is necessary because the Baltic states, Russia, and Belarus have too much in common — including attitudes toward immigration, especially to ethnic minorities.
In Lithuania, the decision about who gets citizenship will be left to the community itself. The government has no plans to create a “deportation block,” according to Vincenzo Bukiet, the head of the Supreme Council for National Emergencies.
Only about a dozen refugees from North Africa applied for citizenship in Lithuania last year, while over 30,000 Belarusians applied. But the Lithuanian prosecutor’s office said it plans to speed up the deportation of those who want to leave the country.
Lithuania does not have a human rights commission, but its prime minister commissioned a report on how the Baltic state should handle information from refugees about sexual and physical assaults. In addition, the government in Minsk urged the European Union to ban the publication of videos showing refugees being abused or robbed.
Donato Sobieski is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.
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Workers unload goods at a warehouse in Vilnius, Lithuania. Minsk granted citizenship to East European and Baltic residents on condition that they would move there permanently.