Prague, Czech Republic – The Czech Republic has promised to financially help Lithuania build a fence at the border with Belarus to combat illegal migration.
During a meeting in Vilnius earlier this week, Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek and Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite signed the deal under which Prague will contribute €530,000 to help its ally build a fence along its 679-kilometre-long border.
Lithuania, along with Latvia and Poland, have faced a surge in the number of migrants trying to cross from Belarus, which the EU has accused of using the mostly Iraqi and Afghan migrants to destabilize them.
More than 3,000 migrants have so far illegally crossed the Lithuanian border this year, officials said.
Belarusian President “Lukashenko continues to weaponize illegal migration as a means to blackmail Lithuania and, by extension, the EU”, Foreign Minister Kulhanek said.
Tensions between Minsk and its two NATO neighbours have been rising for more than a year, ever since the highly-contested reelection of Alexander Lukashenko and the regime’s subsequent crackdown on protesters.
The deal between Czech Republic and Lithuania comes after Vilnius asked the EU and its border agency Frontex for help in stemming the flow of migrants.
Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite thanked the Czech Republic for its support, saying “it shows that Lithuania is not alone, that the protection of the EU’s external borders is not a matter for us alone, but in the interest and the most important priority of the entire European Union.”
On the same day, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis met with its Slovak and Austrian counterparts Eduard Heger and Sebastian Kurz in Moravia. The three Central European leaders issued a joint statement opposing illegal migration and warning against the risk of the 2015-16 crisis repeating itself.
The Czech Republic isn’t the ony country backing Lithuania’s efforts to strengthen its border protection. The European Commission also pledged to send up to €12 million to Lithuania and Estonia. Denmark and Ukraine have sent dozens of kilometres of barbed wire to help the Baltic state, while others including Malta and Cyprus have provided humanitarian help.
In late July, the Defence Ministers of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have vowed to work together and better coordinate their response to the crisis.