Lithuania has begun erecting the first stretches of a steel wall on its border with Belarus. The barrier is meant to prevent irregular crossings of migrants.
Lithuania began putting up the first stretches of its border wall last week, news agency Reuters reported. The wall consists of a 3.4-meter (11-foot) high steel fence, which is topped with 0.6 metres of razor wire.
Lithuania -- like neighboring Poland and Latvia -- had already put up stretches of razor wire recently in response to a large number of migrants from the Middle East and Africa crossing the border from Belarus and heading into the EU. But the steel structure is now the first solid border partition that is being built there.
"It's probably impossible to build a totally unpassable obstacle, so I think that this barrier can too be overcome. But that would take a long time, and we would be able to react," said Virgilijus Raugale, the chief boarder guard in southern Lithuania.
Lithuania has reportedly allocated €152 million to complete building 500 kilometers (300 miles) of the wall by September next year. In total, the border between Belarus and Lithuania runs 679 kilometers, while partly cutting through lakes and rivers.
The wall is also supplemented by a 3-meter-high heap of coiled razor wire next to it, reports Reuters. Video surveillance equipment will also be integrated into the structure.
Preventing arrivals from Belarus
More than 4,000 migrants entered Lithuania from Belarus this year by August. In response to these unprecedented arrival numbers, the country resorted to sending almost everyone who entered irregularly back to Belarus.
Arrivals dropped sharply after August: compared to almost 300 entries on a single day on August 1, there have been nearly zero recorded crossings ever since, as a data visualization by Mediendienst Integration, representing data from the Lithuanian interior ministry, shows.
Instead, over 5,600 migrants have been prevented from entering since then, the border guard service said -- including 2,300 who tried to enter in October alone.
Belarus accused of complicity
The European Union accuses Belarus of deliberately flying in migrants from Middle Eastern and African countries and sending them across its border with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia into the EU.
The bloc says that this is a way of putting pressure on the EU in retaliation for sanctions imposed after the violent crackdown on protests in Belarus following the contested election in the country last year.
Belarus has repeatedly denied this; however, earlier this year, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko stated that his country would no longer hinder migrants from traveling onwards into the EU.
Poland to follow suit
On Thursday the Polish interior ministry presented parliament with plans to also build a permanent fortification along the country's border with Belarus.
As reported by news agency dpa, Polish interior minister Mariusz Kaminsky told reporters that the fence would not only be a physical barrier, but would also be equipped with state-of-the-art devices.
The structure is planned to extend across some 180 kilometers and will be 5.5 meters in height, with the top consisting of coils of barbed wire, according to the interior ministry statement. This would mean the Polish barrier would be 1.5 meter higher than the Lithuanian wall.
Polish authorities also plan to install motion sensors, cameras and other features. Poland's border force is also to receive 750 additional officers, reports dpa. The structure is expected to be completed by the end of the first half of 2022, Minister Kaminsky said.
Polish President Andrzej Duda, however, has yet to formally sign draft bill to erect the wall into law for construction to begin.
Irregular migrant arrivals in Poland started rising in August shortly after the arrival numbers in Lithuania zeroed. Arrival numbers have been comparatively high compared to those recorded in Lithuania, with an average of several hundreds per day and a peak of 739 crossings on October 9.
With Reuters, dpa