VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Belarusian emigrants in Lithuania who were stripped of the right to get new passports by Minsk, will be able to receive special Lithuanian travel documents, authorities in the southernmost Baltic state said Monday.
Such passports will be issued to Belarusian citizens who have the right to reside in Lithuania but do not have a passport or a corresponding travel document, the Interior Ministry said.
It will allow them to leave and enter Lithuania, which shares a 679-kilometer (422-mile) border with Belarus.
“A foreigner’s passport is valid for more than one year but perhaps that term could be longer if the parliament would extend it,” deputy Interior Minister Arnoldas Abramavicius said.
Last week, Minsk announced that its diplomatic missions would no longer issue passports to citizens permanently residing abroad in a move considered a blow to the Belarusian emigrant communities in Europe. The ban could force those who fled the country amid growing repression to return to maintain their travel documents.
An estimated 200-300,000 Belarusians have left the country in the last three years since massive protests against an election that returned President Alexander Lukashenko to office led to a harsh crackdown on the opposition.
According to official Lithuanian figures, more than 58,000 Belarusian citizens are currently residing in Lithuania, including members of the opposition to Lukashenko, an ally of Russia.
Among them is Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a leading figure who fled to Lithuania after Lukashenko claimed victory in disputed 2020 vote. She earlier warned Belarusians, saying that “even if your passport expires, you should not return to your home country if you risk persecution.”