December 2, 2015 / 4:13 PM / in 2 years

Lithuania says central-eastern Europe risks backlash over migrants

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union countries in the east of bloc risk a backlash from other states over their lack of solidarity in taking in migrants, Lithuania’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Syrian refugees call for help and empty water from their flooding raft as they approach the Greek island of Lesbos October 20, 2015. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

At a time when some of Lithuania’s central and eastern European peers oppose quotas for redistributing migrants within the 28-nation bloc, Vilnius agreed to receive 1,105 people and Linas Linkevicius told Reuters it was ready to consider more.

The stance of the ex-Soviet republic of some 3 million people on the migration crisis - Europe’s worst since World War Two - contrasts with that of Poland, Slovakia or Hungary, which have already drawn criticism from other EU member states.

“We understand that if we need assistance, coordination, solidarity on issues that are really essential for our security, for the region, we have to act accordingly,” Linkevicius said in an interview in Brussels.

“We cannot think that when we need assistance to develop roads, infrastructure, railways, energy - Europe should come and help, and when something is needed for southern Europe ... this is not our (problem),” he said. “We have to show solidarity.”

He was speaking as Slovakia on Wednesday filed a lawsuit at the European Court of Justice against the EU’s system of quotas agreed in September to resettle 160,000 migrants, mainly from Italy and Greece.

Amid heightened security concerns brought on by the Nov.13 Paris attacks, Poland’s new right-wing government signaled it was reviewing whether it would take in the 4,500 refugees Warsaw had previously agreed to.

Hungary erected a steel fence along the country’s southern border to keep out migrants.

Linkevicius warned the split over migration could have an impact on other policies such as the EU’s allocation of aid funds or energy security for which member states depend on each other.

“I don’t want anyone dividing our continent or the members,” he said. “We are all members of the same Europe. We share the same values. We shouldn’t encourage those who are trying to split us.”

Nearly 900,000 people have reached European shores in 2015, mainly through Turkey, according to U.N. data. The European Council President Donald Tusk, however, last week put the number of people who illegally entered the EU this year at 1.5 million.

Although no migrants have yet moved to Lithuania as part of the resettlement program, Linkevicius said Vilnius would consider joining another plan now being drafted to fly limited numbers of refugees from Turkey direct to Europe.

Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Alison Williams

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