Saeima approves state of emergency at Latvia-Belarus border

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Following a rapid but busy debate in Latvia's parliament, the Saeima, the government's declaration of a state of emergency at the Belarus border August 12 was approved by 85 votes to 0.

The debate featured some sharp criticism of the government's failure to forsee the migration crisis in advance with the experience of Lithuania showing that should Alexander Lukashenko decide to extend his state-backed people smuggling operation northwards, it would be easy to do so.

In addition deputies speculated on how far and in what manner Latvia needed to adhere to international conventions on migration given the extraordinary nature of the threat posed by Lukashenko's rogue regime.

Janis Iesalnieks (National Alliance) said that his party had predicted that the situation at the border would worsen while Interior Minister Marija Golubeva had been complacent, and criticised her decision to attend the Baltic Pride event even while a crisis was unfolding at the border. He also demanded that a border fence be completed by the end of year.

Former Welfare Minister Ramona Petraviča (KPV LV) said that the immigrants arriving at Latvia's border did not share the values of Latvia or the European Union in terms of their moral and religious outlooks. She also expressed concerns that among the illegal migrants crossing the border might be criminals and other undesirables.

Opposition deputy Boriss Cilevičs (Harmony) said he was surprised by the lack of explanation from some of the coalition parties about why they appeared to have reversed their positions with regard to civil rights and international obligations and demanded that they clarify their positions to Saeima. His party colleague Ivars Zariņš warned that social media was already alive with fake news and potential hate speech with regard to illegal border crossers.

Juris Rancāns (New Conservatives) said the principal problem was Alexander Lukashenko and even stiffer sanctions were needed to target him and his regime. He also suggested that in emergency situations it was clear that international conventions on asylum seekers allowed exceptional measures to be taken.

Rihards Kols (National Alliance), chairman of the important Saeima Foreign Affairs Committee, pointed out that the experience of other EU member states such as Spain and Greece showed what measures were acceptable in countering illegal migration and that guaranteeing Latvia's territorial integrity and internal security was paramount and that information exchange and other cooperation between Latvia, Lithuania and Poland was another tool that should be used.


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