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European leaders have called for Brussels to provide extra funding towards boosting the bloc’s external frontiers as Belarus continues to send across waves of people illegally across its borders.
The EU must act now to reform the asylum laws and build a border fence to defend itself as Minsk continues to “weaponise” migration, said Lithuania’s president.
“We also should talk about a physical fence or physical border, which is extremely needed as a short-term measure,” Gitanas Nauseda said as the second day of a summit of European leaders in Brussels got underway.
“Because nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. Maybe there will be three, four, five thousand migrants staying at the border at the same time or trying to cross the border in different places… We have to be decisive.”
The European Union is facing an influx of 5,000 migrants as Belarus ramps up what has become known as its “hybrid war” against the bloc, leading to calls for the construction of a physical border fence to fend off the attack.
Arriving at the summit, Alexander Schallenberg, the Chancellor of Austria, said that “building a wall” on the Lithuanian border could be one method of defending the EU against what he called President Alexander Lukashenko’s “cynical policy” of sending migrants to the bloc’s borders.
He acknowledged that the term “wall” would be hard to stomach for some member states, but insisted the EU should pay for it.
He added: “Why should this burden be paid exclusively by Lithuanian taxpayers?”
Support for physical barriers
Earlier this month, 12 EU nations, including Lithuania, Austria, Greece and Poland, urged the European Commission to start funding physical barriers to curb migration. They described it as an “effective border measure that serves the interest of the whole EU, not just member states of first arrival”.
However, the European Commission has so far been reluctant to use the bloc’s budget to build a physical barrier to stem the flow of migrants coming in and it is unlikely any agreement on the issue will be reached at the summit.
The EU’s 27 member states have long been divided over how to avert a new migration crisis, after more than a million people arrived in 2015.
Now it is facing another crisis as Mr Lukashenko helps tens of thousands of people cross into the EU via Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in retaliation for sanctions against his regime imposed after his government hijacked a Ryanair plane to detain an opposition activist.
Xavier Bettel, the Luxembourg prime minister, said any measures should be respectful to people attempting to cross into the bloc.
“These people are not being treated adequately, also by various European countries, and I am convinced there is room for improvement,” he told reporters in Brussels.
“All measures we take must be in line with human rights. We cannot simply strip people of the most fundamental rights, the right of asylum. An orderly migration must remain possible. We need to find the right balance.”