New Barrier to Rise in Europe’s East Amid Spat With Belarus
(Bloomberg) -- Lithuania will build a 508-kilometer (316-mile) long fence on its border with Belarus to stop an unprecedented wave of migrants pouring into the European Union’s east.
The arrivals are part of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s strategy to retaliate against EU sanctions against his government over his crackdown against pro-democratic opposition, Lithuanian and EU officials said. Lukashenko denies these allegations.
He has threatened to stop policing the flow of drugs, guns, people and nuclear material to the EU. Lithuania, which along with neighbor Poland is sheltering dissidents fighting to unseat Lukashenko, has taken the brunt. More than 4,000 people, mainly from Iraq, have crossed into Lithuania since June, 50 times more than in all of 2020.
“Lukashenko is using migration as a weapon,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told Bloomberg News over the weekend. “This is a hybrid campaign by Lukashenko against the EU and the integrity of its eastern border.”
The fence, which may cost 152 million euros ($179 million), will add to barriers that have risen in Europe since 2015, when millions of Middle Eastern and African migrants came to the continent.
The government’s plan is to finish the construction by the end of next year, but officials have already warned that depends on availability of construction materials. Lawmakers voted 80-2 with two abstentions in favor of the project.
“A physical barrier today is inevitable,” Internal Affairs Minister Agne Bilotaite told lawmakers. “Without a physical barrier we won’t have an effective border protection.”
Lawmakers also gave the military the power to operate as the border-guard service in an emergency situation.
“The situation is really tense on the border,” said Bilotaite. “We can expect anything. We see that after Lithuania has taken action, flows have switched to Poland and Latvia.”
Neighboring Latvia has also dusted off a similar plan to build a 134 kilometer-long barbed wire fence on its border with Belarus. The government on Tuesday approved plans for the fence, which may be completed by 2024, and declared a state of emergency on Belarus’s border after a surge of arrivals.
During a visit to the Lithuanian Belarus border, the EU’s Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson called the situation “an act of aggression from the Lukashenko regime and not a migration crisis.” Frontex, the EU’s border agency, is also sending emergency assistance.
Lukashenko has also threatened to stop checks on illegal nuclear material heading for the EU, saying that after thwarting as many as six smuggling attempts last year, it would be allowed to flow unhindered. He also denied directing migrants to the EU frontier.
“I didn’t send them there,” he said on Monday in Minsk. “The EU invited them.”
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