Lithuania on Friday announced that it would build a border wall with Belarus to stem the flow of migrants from Africa and the Middle East arriving from the ex-Soviet country.
So far this year, Lithuanian border guards have detained more than 1,500 migrants arriving from Belarus, compared with 81 for all of last year.
On Friday, the military of the Baltic country, a EU and NATO member, started to put up a barbed wire on the border to deter asylum seekers, most of whom are from the Middle East and Africa.
“The first stage is a barbed wire fence. In the second stage, we will go ahead with the construction of a physical fence,” Lithuanian Minister of the Interior Agne Bilotaite said, laying out plans for a 550km border wall.
Tensions between Minsk and Vilnius soared last year after Lithuania became a hub for the Belarusian opposition, following a disputed presidential election.
Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fled to Lithuania after claiming to have defeated Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko in the ballot on Aug. 9 last year, which critics say was rigged in his favor.
The Lithuanian border guards on Friday said that they had detained 37 migrants over the past 24 hours.
A nation of 2.8 million, Lithuania is struggling to accommodate the unprecedented spike. It has so far failed to send any of the new arrivals back to Belarus.
The Lithuanian military is expanding tent camps set up to accommodate the migrants.
Minsk last month said that it was suspending its participation in the Eastern Partnership, an initiative to boost ties between the EU and its former Soviet Union neighbous, after Brussels imposed new sanctions over the forced landing of a European flight.
The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the time said that the suspension of the agreement would have a “negative impact” on fighting illegal migration and organized crime, as Belarus shares a border with EU members Poland and Lithuania.
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