Belarus fears post-Schengen migrant flood

  • 2007-08-22
  • Staff and wire reports

OUTER SHELL: Once the Baltic states join the Schengen zone,borders with third countries will become much more important.

VILNIUS- Belarusian border guards arebracing for a flood of Lithuaniaboundillegal immigrants acrosstheir western border after theBaltic nations join the Schengenvisa zone early next year.The National Border ForceCommittee of Belarus said thatonce the Baltics join the Schengenspace, they will become a primelocation for non-EU citizens tocross borders and continue onwardto other European countries in theSchengen area, the Interfax newsagency reported Aug. 16."That's the Belarusians' fear.They are responsible for guardingtheir border and making sure theythey prevent illegals from enteringor exiting. We've been working foryears with them to secure the border,"Lithuanian State BorderGuard Services press representativeRokis Puskinskas said.

Lithuania hopes to join theSchengen area on Jan. 1, afterwhich land border controls will belifted. Controls on air borders willbe removed on March 1. However,the final decision on expanding theSchengen area is subject to a voteby European Union Ministers ofJustice and Home Affairs thisNovember.Lithuanian Foreign Ministryspokeswoman Davia Rimasauskatiesaid Belarusian authoritieshad expressed no fears toLithuania about the security of theborder in the past."The State Border GuardServices of Lithuania constantlyand actively cooperate and solveborder problems," she said. "A fineexample of this is the latestLithuanian-Belarusian meeting ofthe Heads of Border GuardServices in Brest on July 20 thisyear, during which - among otherissues - the preparation for theupcoming musical festival"Be2gether" at the Lithuanian-Belarusian border was discussed,and a joint Lithuanian-Belarusianoperation of the Border GuardServices [for the event] wasplanned."

The EU has allocated 524 millionlitas (152 million euros) forSchengen preparations and another94 million litas has come fromLithuania's own state coffers.In recent years the number ofpeople detained at the border ofBelarus for trying to cross illegallyhas fallen. It dropped from 501in 1995 to 154 in 2006. There were489 violators detained at the borderwith Russia in 1995 and 92 in2006.