As tension with neighboring Belarus escalates, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte announced Wednesday that a "physical barrier" will be constructed along their 421-mile border to stop illegal migration. Army troops also will be deployed to guard the border, the BBC reports. The actions should be taken as "a certain sign and a certain deterrent to organizers of the illegal migration flows," Simonyte said. The prime minister called such efforts at the border "a waste of time" before the current increase, per Deutsche Welle; Lithuania reports more than 1,300 illegal crossings took place in the first half of this year, after 81 were documented in all of 2020. Lithuania and the European Union, which has sent help to the border, say Belarus is trying to punish Europe for sanctions imposed over human rights cases and the rigging of elections.
President Alexander Lukashenko, who stayed in office after last year's disputed vote, denies any election fraud. Simonyte said Belarus is flying in illegal immigrants from other countries who are then crossing into Lithuania. The prime minister called Belarus' activity "hybrid aggression, which is directed not against Lithuania but against the entire European Union. The basis was the principled position of the whole EU, as well as Lithuania, on the falsified election results, repression of civil society and human rights defenders." Most of the immigrants illegally entering Lithuania are coming from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Lukashenko sarcastically threatened Tuesday to allow people from war-torn countries to freely enter EU nations. "We won't hold anyone, they are coming not to us but to the enlightened, warm and cozy Europe," he said. (Read more Lithuania stories.)