After Lithuania built a fence on its border with Belarus, the numbers of migrants crossing the border into the country, and therefore the EU, have reduced, say the authorities.
Lithuanian border authorities have said that the fence they built on its border with Belarus, coupled with electronic surveillance, has helped to reduce the numbers of migrants crossing the border into the European Union.
The presence of the physical barriers, which were also built along Belarus' border with Poland, in combination with colder weather, have helped spread the message to people that it is too difficult to cross the border, authorities said.
The head of the border station in Kapciamiestis, where many of the migrants arrived, confirmed the decrease in numbers on Lithuainian radio on Tuesday (November 6), dpa reports.
Border 680 kilometers long
Lithuania’s border with Belarus is almost 680 kilometers long. About 100 kilometers are marked by lakes and rivers, reports dpa. The fences stretch for almost 550 kilometers and are four meters high and topped with barbed wire.
Construction was completed at the end of August. Crossing attempts have been falling since August, and this month there have only been a handful of attempts to cross the border, according to official government figures.
However, reportedly those who do attempt the crossing are finding more and more innovative ways of doing so. Some bring ladders to scale the fence, some hope to use nearby trees to climb, and others have tried to cut their way through the wire.
Just two weeks ago, the European broadcaster Euronews reported that Belarus was continuing to push "barefoot migrants across the border." Lithuania’s Interior Minister Agne Bilotaité reportedly told journalists that the Lithuanian authorities had found nine people without shoes and lacking adequate winter clothing.
Earlier in November, there were reports of a Sri Lankan man losing his leg and five toes after suffering frostbite when he was trapped in the no-man’s land between the two countries. At the height of the arrivals of migrants from Belarus there were frequent reports of migrants being pushed back and forth across the border between Belarus and Poland or Lithuania and often stuck for days, weeks or months in a no-man’s land between armed soldiers.
Bilotaité released a statement saying that "the fact that people arrive at the border barefoot will not be a reason to let them in. Our message is that such attempts will not be a reason to enter Lithuania."
However, four out of the group of nine who were found without shoes were later offered the chance to apply for asylum according to Euronews.
'Not accustomed to winter conditions'
Bilotaité accuses Belarus of deliberately keeping migrants at the border and not providing them with warm clothes, even though "they are not accustomed to winter conditions." She further said that Belarusian border officers had been observed at the border "actively damag[ing] the physical barrier, particularly where border monitoring systems have not yet been installed."
The minister says that the physical barrier has been damaged "433 times."
According to aid groups interviewed by Euronews there were in late November thousands of migrants stuck in these kinds of conditions near the EU borders. Some are even reported to have died, although no deaths have been reported near the border with either Lithuania or Latvia.
Euronews reported that according to the Ministry of the Interior, 10,549 migrants had been detained while trying to make their way across the border into Lithuania without the correct papers. Lithuania says that by the end of the year it will complete its installation of high-tech monitoring systems.