VILNIUS – Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite and ministers from 14 other EU member states signed in Athens on Friday a joint declaration calling for strengthening the bloc's border protection infrastructure and amending EU legislation in response to the influx of irregular migrants from Belarus.
"Fifteen EU countries signed a declaration that makes it clear that all the necessary resources must be allocated so that we can secure our borders with efficient, good border infrastructure," the minister told BNS by phone from the Greek capital, where she attended the 2nd European Conference on Border Management.
The declaration was signed by representatives of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Cyprus, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
"More effective border control implies the need of reinforcing operational capabilities, where possible with neighboring countries, as well as infrastructure (mobile and stationary), means of surveillance (including pre-frontier aerial surveillance) and equipment," the document reads.
"EU external border protection could be further strengthened by means of common minimum standards for external border surveillance. Being a shared responsibility, this requires substantial EU funding and full use of the potential of relevant EU agencies."
According to Bilotaite, the conference focused on key issues related to border infrastructure and changes in EU law.
The declaration notes that "further efforts are needed to address the gaps in existing EU legal framework", which would also help address problems caused by the recent years' influx of irregular migrants from Belarus into Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.
The countries accuse the Minsk regime of orchestrating the unprecedented migration influx,
Lithuania has been turning irregular migrants away since August 2021, but the policy has been criticized by NGOs as running counter to EU law.
"We call for the swift adoption of the amendments to the Schengen Borders Code as well as completion of work on the relevant legislative proposals with the aim to swiftly ensure the normal functioning of the Schengen Area, as well as for progress, in particular concerning countering instrumentalization of migrants for political purposes, and measures against transport operators engaged in or facilitating migrant smuggling and human trafficking," the declaration reads.
Earlier on Friday, the Lithuanian Interior Ministry said that Vilnius, while calling for the adoption of amendments to the Schengen Borders Code and an agreement on common standards for border security, is also asking for "permission to derogate from EU law in exceptional cases".
The declaration also calls on the European Commission "to commit adequate financial support to frontline member states" and to assist financially member states that "bilaterally support other member states and partner countries in their border management or return activities".
"Meanwhile, we stand committed to offering protection to those in need, and in this regard, we will continue supporting Ukrainian people, fleeing the brutal war of aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine," it reads.