Lithuania needs a physical barrier on its border with Belarus, European Commissioner Ylva Johansson said as she visited the border on Monday, though Vilnius may not be able fund the construction with EU money.
“In my view, it's necessary to have some kind of physical barrier. This has been shown to me very concretely here,” the EU commissioner for home affairs said during a media conference in the border town of Medininkai. “In my view, it's a good idea, actually, to build a physical barrier.”
“Whether that could be directly financed by EU funds or not – it’s more difficult [to answer],” she added. “We have never financed any fence constructions, but we are financing a lot of other kind of equipment to make sure that the integrated border management is protective enough. And that's what we will discuss further.”
Interior Minister Agne Bilotaitė, who accompanied Johansson on the visit, said they agreed on “the need for Lithuania to build a physical barrier or a wall to repel this hybrid attack”.
Vilnius officials have claimed that the Belarusian government is facilitating migrant smuggling, calling it “hybrid attack” against Lithuania.
The Lithuanian State Border Guard Service has worked out a plan for building a border fence, but initially it wants to install concertina wire along the entire border with Belarus, according to the minister.
Rustamas Liubajevas, the commander of the service, told the news conference that political decisions on launching the construction were expected by the end of the week.
“We have submitted our proposals to the Interior Ministry, and we have also discussed the implementation of these plans in the government's office,” Liubajevas said.
Johansson arrived in Lithuania on Sunday to inspect the situation in the country. Lithuania has been experiencing an unprecedented hike in irregular migration over the past several months. Almost 4,000 migrants have been caught after crossing from Belarus.
On Monday, she visited the border and met with President Gitanas Nausėda and Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė.
No free access
The EU must show that there's no free access for irregular migrants, Johansson said on Monday.
“This is a provocation of the Lukashenko regime. [...] And we have to make it clear that there's no free access to the EU territory. Lithuania, the EU and Schengen countries are obliged to prevent non-authorised access to the Schengen area. And that's why it's so important that we, the EU as a whole, now stand together with Lithuania to protect our common external border with Belarus,” she said.
Speaking after her meeting with Prime Minister Šimonytė, Johansson said Lithuania's was a target of provocations by the Belarusian government.
“What we are facing is an aggressive act from the Lukashenko regime. It’s one that is designed to provoke. [...] And it's not primarily a migration crisis. This is an act of aggression that is aimed to provoke,” the European commissioner said.
She also noted that the European Commission was ready to give additional funding for border protection.
“We are ready to fund extra measures from the European Commission and I will send a delegation [...] and they will spend a few days here to discuss in more detail what we have discussed briefly, possibilities to fund a good protection system for the external borders, with surveillance, with protection to help to prevent irregular arrivals,” Johansson said, adding that the delegation could come as soon as Sunday.