KURMELIONYS VILLAGE, Salcininkai District, Lithuania – The existing calm on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border is deceptive, Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite warns.
On Friday, she showed foreign delegations around the construction of a physical barrier in Lithuania and briefed on the measures the country is taking to protect the European Union's external border.
"The calm you see right now is deceptive. Our border guards know that a group of migrants being pushed by force by Belarusian officers might emerge at any moment. Also, migrant groups might also attempt to force their way through, specifically trained for that purpose," the minister said.
Rustamas Liubajevas, commander of Lithuania's State Border Guard Service, said only 18 case of violation of Lithuania's state border were recorded last week. Despite that, border guards need to be ready to work under more serious conditions.
"Lithuania and the European Union are in the midst of a hybrid attach when migrants are being used for political goals and to put pressure on both Lithuania and the whole of the European Union," Bilotaite told reporters near the Belarusian border.
The EU external border urgently needs a new protection standard, and also the EU existing migration policy needs amendment, she said.
Asked whether Lithuania's existing push-back strategy could become an example for Europe, Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi said international law does not guarantee the right for migrants to enter the EU.
"I think that the Geneva Convention, the Charter of Fundamental Rights give the right to people to apply for asylum but international law does not grant the right for people to illegally enter the EU territory," the minister said and pointed out that international law allows states to protect their borders.
Lithuania has allocated 152 million euros for the construction of a physical barrier along its border with Belarus to boost border protection. The decision to build such a barrier and employ the push-back policy was made in response to an influx of illegal migrants trying to enter from Belarus. More than 8,000 foreigners have so far been prevented from illegally entering Lithuania.
The country has managed to install 170 km of concertina barbed wire and bild around 30 km of the physical barrier during the illegal migration period, according to the Interior Ministry.
Bilotaite says Lithuania cannot deal with the ongoing hybrid attack by Belarus using migrants alone and needs a joint and united EU response, Bilotaite said.
"If we want to defend ourselves effectively, we all – EU and Schengen countries, EU agencies and institutions – need to agree on a new border protection standard and legal instruments with withstand hybrid attacks," the interior minister said.
More than 4,200 irregular crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally last year. Lithuania and other Western countries accuse the Minsk regime of orchestrating the unprecedented migration influx, calling it "hybrid aggression".