VILNIUS – Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite says she has agreed with visiting Executive Director of European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex Fabrice Leggeri on higher capacity near the border with Belarus.
"On July 10, Lithuania asked Frontex for rapid response forces, 60 officers, four questioning teams with interpreters, 30 vehicles, two helicopters and two pieces of thermal vision equipment. Some 20 officers and 14 vehicles are already on patrol in Lithuania, and that is a very clear message that Lithuania is not alone," she told a press conference on Monday.
Leggeri said, "The reason why I am visiting Lithuania today is to see in the field the operational deployment of our support to Lithuania at the external border."
"The increase of irregular crossings from Belarus to Lithuania started a couple of weeks ago and there was a spike in the increase at the end of June and beginning of July," the Frontex chief told the press conference.
"It was the moment when [...] Frontex and Lithuanian authorities assessed that the situation was completely different than the normal situation, and can't be tackled without Rapid Border Intervention (RBI). And this is why RBI was launched by Frontex," he said.
The Frontex chief said his agency would also send interpreters and experts to Lithuania and provide assistance in identifying migrants, conducting security checks and returning migrants to their countries.
During meetings in Slovenia last week, it was agreed to activate the Rapid Border Intervention mechanism.
"One of the key goals of my visit is to see the real situation and assess what help Lithuania needs," the Interior Ministry quoted Leggeri as saying in a press release. "We understand that the country is dealing with the consequences of illegal migration."
"For our part, we can provide expert assistance on migration and the return of migrants," he said. "We are here to help you in this difficult situation and to show our solidarity with you."
Twenty-six Frontex officers are now guarding the Lithuanian border with officers from the State Border Guard Service, and their number is expected to increase to 60. The plan is to send up to 200 people to the whole Lithuanian, Polish and Latvian region.
"As mentioned, about 60 border surveillance experts will be coming to Lithuania in the near future to assist the Border Guard Service in monitoring the border," Rustamas Liubajevas, the commander of the Lithuanian State Border Guard Service, told the news conference
"We also talked about the possibility (of Frontex) helping us to organize interviews of illegal migrants – EU experts could definitely help here. That would allow us to gather additional information that would later help us organize the return of these persons," he said.
The Interior Ministry also said an assistance action plan for Lithuania had been signed with the European Asylum Support Office (EASO).
Migration experts and interpreters are expected to come to Lithuania shortly to help specialists of the country's Migration Department to step up the processing of asylum requests, and to communicate with migrants and discuss their return to their countries of origin.
European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson has promised to provide 10-12 million euros in financial assistance for Lithuania from the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, with the money expected to reach Lithuania in August.
So far this year, Lithuanian border guards have detained more than 1,900 illegal migrants arriving from Belarus, compared to just over 80 in the whole of 2020.
The Lithuanian government has declared a state of emergency due to the growing migrant crisis.