Recent amendments to the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens allow border guards and migration officials "to offer such pocket money" to people who want to return to their country of origin, Evelina Gudzinskaite, director of the Lithuanian Migration Department, told BNS.

A procedure for how this will work is expected to be approved by the interior minister next week, she said.

The Lithuanian unit of the International Organization for Migration now offers to cover migrants' air travel expenses and reintegration support, according to the director.

The new rules will most probably allow border guards and migration officials to offer only pocket money and cash to buy an air ticket, she said.

Details as to how much money will be made available to migrants and whether they will be paid from EU or national funds are not yet clear.

Over 50 new migration staffers

Gudzinskaite also confirmed that the Migration Department has already selected an additional 56 employees who will help speed up the processing of irregular migrants' asylum applications.

Nine new staff members took up duties on Monday, with the rest expected to join them by mid-April.

The department is adding staff to cope with a backlog of hundreds of asylum applications amid an unprecedented influx of irregular migration via Belarus in recent months.

This year so far, almost 4,000 irregular migrants have crossed into Lithuania from the neighboring country, compared to 81 in the whole of 2020.

The department has so far rejected 187 asylum applications from the migrants and has not granted refugee status to any of them. Another 815 requests are pending.

More than a week ago, the department said it had rejected 140 applications and another 650 were pending.

There are several reasons why the number of asylum applications differs from that of illegal crossings, according to Gudzinskaite.

"Some of them do not apply for asylum; some have just fled Lithuania," the director said. "Some of them may have applied, but either they are still under quarantine or border guards have not yet carried out their initial questioning."

"We only count the asylum applications that we officially receive from the migrants themselves. It happens after they are questioned by border guards," she added.

Amendments to Lithuania's Law on the Legal Status of Aliens came into force almost two weeks ago, but it will take time to improve the efficiency of the work of migration specialists.

Politicians and specialists hope that the amendments, which imposed additional restrictions on migrants and facilitated the work of the authorities, will help to process irregular migrants' applications within ten days.

Gudzinskaite admits that her department has been unable to achieve this target yet, but expects that the additional staff members will help it to do so.

Currently, asylum applications are processed within four weeks, she said.

Vilnius officials describe the spike in migration as "hybrid aggression" by the Minsk regime against Lithuania.