Lithuania plans to install surveillance cameras along the entire length of its border with Belarus, the prime minister said on Friday. The announcement came only a few days after Poland began building a permanent wall to prevent migrants and refugees from entering the EU.
The installation of cameras along the Lithuania-Belarus border will reportedly cost about €40 million. The border is roughly 680 kilometers long, and marks one of the eastern external borders of the European Union. Half of the stretch is already outfitted with cameras, news agency dpa reports.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte told the BNS news agency on Friday (January 28) that installing cameras would be significantly cheaper than erecting a physical barrier.
The move comes around eight months after Belarus began allowing migrants and refugees from other parts of the world to fly into the country, with the promise of an easy passage into the EU. Since then, thousands of migrants have attempted to cross from Belarus into Lithuania, Poland and Lativa.
Lithuania was the first country to register a spike in irregular border crossings starting in May. Most of the refugees and migrants were Iraqi Kurds, but also people from Syria, Afghanistan and some African countries.
The European Union accuses Belarus of deliberately sending the migrants to the EU as a way of putting pressure on the bloc, as a retaliation for EU sanctions.
Crisis on eastern EU border
While nearly 8,000 migrants arrived in the EU via Belarus in 2021 (according to figures from the European Commission in December), thousands of others remained stranded between countries. People were blocked for weeks from travelling west, but at the same time were prevented from turning back by Belarusian forces. The crisis came to a head in the months of November and December when some 5,000 migrants were said to be stuck on the Poland-Belarus border without adequate access to services or assistance.
At least 17 migrants are reported to have died along the EU's border with Belarus -- many of them due to freezing winter temperatures. In Poland, migrant aid groups, as well as journalists, were banned from the border region due to a months-long state of emergency imposed by the Polish government.
Lithuania in early November began building the first stretches of a steel wall on its border with Belarus. The structure consists of a 3.4-meter (11-foot) high steel fence, which is topped with 0.6 metres of razor wire. The government also passed a law to fast-track asylum claims, essentially allowing the authorities to process and return migrants faster, and allowing for the detention of migrants for up to six months without a court order.
Poland builds wall
Last week, Poland started work on a permanent wall along its border with Belarus; the construction is said to cost €353 million. The 5.5-meter high wall will be 186 kilometers long -- almost half the total length of the border between the two countries.
According to the Polish border guard, almost 40,000 attempts to cross the border from Belarus were were registered in all of 2021, with a peak of 17,300 attempts in October.
This year, the number of attempted crossings has fallen to some dozens per day -- but some people are reportedly still braving extremely cold conditions in an effort to cross, and Polish aid workers say the crisis on the border is not over. In the first three weeks of January the Border Group action alliance received 345 emergeny calls of migrants asking for humanitarian, medical or legal help, the group told the dpa news agency.
"Those who make it across the border now are mostly in a much worse physical condition than in the months before," Monika Matus of Border Group said. This is due to the winter weather and the fact that the Polish side of the border is heavily guarded and difficult to cross, she said.