Belarus: Expert discusses ‘influx’ of migrants to Lithuania
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Lithuania said on Monday it would complete a 508-km (315-mile) fence along its border with Belarus by September next year to stop migrants it says are crossing in record numbers orchestrated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Lithuania, Latvia and Poland have reported major increases in migrants reaching their territory from Belarus and have accused Lukashenko of using them to put pressure on the European Union to lift sanctions against his country.
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said: “The physical barrier is vital for us to repel this hybrid attack, which the Belarus regime is undertaking against Lithuania and the EU.”
State-owned EPSO-G, which runs Lithuania’s electricity and gas grids, is overseeing the construction of the border fence, which will be three meters (10 feet) high when topped with razor wire and cost at least 152 million euros, the government said.
Last week EU countries accused Belarus of conducting “a direct attack” by pushing asylum seekers across its border and, uneasy about the prospect of a surge of Afghan migrants, agreed they need to strengthen their external borders in the future.
So far this year, 4,141 people have illegally crossed into Lithuania, a small Baltic republic of 2.8 million inhabitants, according to government figures, compared with 74 in all of 2020.
Only 21 have crossed since August 10, when Lithuania resorted to pushing migrants coming from Belarus back into the former Soviet republic.
Almost 2,000 were denied entry during the period, according to the Interior Ministry.
The EU accuses Belarus of flying Iraqis to Minsk and then driving them north towards its borders.
Lukashenko has said he will no longer hold back migrants due to the sanctions imposed after a disputed presidential election last year and subsequent crackdown on protesters and dissidents.
Poland will also build a fence along its border with Belarus and double the number of troops there, the defence minister said on Monday.
Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said that a new 2.5-metre-(8.2-foot)-high solid fence would be built on the border with Belarus.
At a press conference at the border Blaszczak also said the military presence there would be increased.
He said: “It is necessary to increase the number of soldiers. … We will soon double the number of soldiers to 2,000.”
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Poland’s government has come under sharp criticism from human rights advocates over the plight of a group of migrants trapped for two weeks in the open between Polish and Belarusian border guards near the village of Usnarz Gorny.
Poland says allowing the migrants to enter Polish territory would encourage further illegal migration and would also play into Lukashenko’s hands.
Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said: “These are not refugees, they are economic migrants brought in by the Belarusian government.”
Some lawyers and NGOs accuse Warsaw of treating the stranded migrants inhumanely by blocking their entry.
The Polish Human Rights Ombudsman said the Border Guard had violated the Geneva Convention by not accepting verbal declarations from some of the migrants that they wanted to apply for international protection in Poland.
Piotr Bystrianin from the Ocalenie Foundation, which helps refugees, said: “People were asking the border guards for protection and the border guards were pushing them back.
“That means they were in contact and that means they should give them the possibility to apply for protection. … It is very simple.”
Mahdieh Gholami, a translator helping the Ocalenie Foundation, said that Polish troops were hampering her efforts to communicate with the migrants just across the border.
She said: “When I start to say something the soldiers turn on engines.”
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