Lithuania said Monday it would complete a 508 km (315 mile) fence along its border with Belarus by September next year to stop the migrants orchestrated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Lithuania, Latvia and Poland have reported a sharp increase in migrants reaching their territory from Belarus and have accused Lukashenko of using them to pressure the European Union to lift sanctions against his country.
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said: “The physical barrier is vital for us to fend off this hybrid attack that the Belarusian regime is carrying out against Lithuania and the EU.”
State-run EPSO-G, which operates Lithuania’s electricity and gas networks, is overseeing the construction of the border fence, which will be three meters high when covered with barbed wire and cost at least € 152 million, the government said.
Last week, EU countries accused Belarus of “carrying out a direct attack” by pushing asylum seekers across the border and agreed that they must strengthen their external borders in the future, given the prospect of an increase in Afghan migrants.
So far this year, 4,141 people have illegally entered Lithuania, a small Baltic republic of 2.8 million people, compared to 74 in all of 2020, according to the government.
Only 21 have crossed the border since August 10, when Lithuania pushed migrants coming from Belarus back to the former Soviet republic.
According to the Interior Ministry, almost 2,000 were refused entry during the reporting period.
The EU accuses Belarus of flying Iraqis to Minsk and then driving them north towards its borders.
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The Polish government has come under severe criticism from human rights activists for the plight of a group of migrants trapped for two weeks outdoors between Polish and Belarusian border guards near the village of Usnarz Gorny.
Poland says the entry of migrants into Polish territory would encourage further illegal migration and also play into the hands of Lukashenko.
Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said: “These are not refugees, but economic migrants brought in by the Belarusian government.”
Some lawyers and NGOs accuse Warsaw of treating stranded migrants inhumanly by banning them from entering the country.
The Polish ombudsman for human rights said border guards had violated the Geneva Convention by not accepting verbal statements made by some migrants that they wanted to apply for international protection in Poland.
Piotr Bystrianin of the Ocalenie Foundation, which helps refugees, said, “People have asked the border guards for protection and the border guards pushed them back.
“That means they were in contact and that means they should give them the opportunity to apply for protection. … It’s very simple.”
Mahdieh Gholami, a translator for the Ocalenie Foundation, said Polish forces are hindering their efforts to communicate with migrants across the border.
She said, “When I start to say something, the soldiers turn on engines.”