The step, announced by Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte on Wednesday, comes as officials from the Baltic country have attacked Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for purposefully propelling migrant flows across the border as part of a “hybrid attack,” according to Al Jazeera.
Since June 1, 1,044 migrants trying to cross the border have been arrested, according to Simonyte, compared to 81 in all of 2020.
“We will begin building an additional physical barrier, which divides Lithuania and Belarus, which would be a certain sign and a certain deterrent to organizers of the illegal migration flows,” the prime minister said, adding that it will be patrolled by the Lithuanian army.
Last week, the European Union sent a team of border patrolmen to Lithuania’s 420 mile-long border with Belarus to help calm the pressure. Most of those arrested were from the Middle East. Simonyte claimed Belarusian travel agencies were opened in Middle Eastern countries to persuade migrants to come to Belarus, after which they would be sent across the border to Lithuania.
The recent migrant crisis started following EU criticism against the extorted landing of an international flight containing a Belarusian dissident. Lukashenko then declared that he would no longer try to stemstem the flood of refugees from entering EU countries.
“If some think that we will close our borders with Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine and become a camp for people fleeing Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Tunisia, they are mistaken,” Lukashenko announced on Tuesday, quipping, “We won’t hold anyone, they are coming not to us but to the enlightened, warm, and cozy Europe.”
Pavel Latushka, a banished Belarusian activist, told the Associated Press that the directing of migrant flows is seen as a “special operation” and leading them toward EU countries is seen as “taking revenge on the EU.” He claimed that Lukashenko’s son, Viktor, is responsible for the operation.
The migrant flow has gotten so critical that the Lithuanian government ordered a state of emergency last week, according to Politico.
Diplomatic connections between Belarus and the EU have been increasingly declining ever since the Ryanair flight diversion. Belarus suspended all diplomats from Lithuania’s Baltic neighbor, Latvia, in May. On Tuesday, two head Lithuanian politicians were suspended. Lithuania’s ambassador to Belarus had already left the country in October, along with Poland’s. Belarus also told the EU’s head of delegation to leave last week.
Lithuania has not defined what form the planned “physical barrier” with Belarus will be, but it is likely to take the kind of a 6-and-a-half-foot border fence, the same the Baltic country has along its border with Kaliningrad, a Russian oblast. The fence was built in 2017 in response to Russian military exercises and the abduction of an Estonian border officer.