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Lithuania toughens Belarus border with razor wire to keep migrants out

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After accusing Belarusian authorities of flying in migrants from overseas to send illegally into the European Union, Lithuania began construction on a 550-kilometer (320-mile) razor-wire fence on its border with Belarus on Friday.

The government estimates that the military-style wire coil will cost 4.9 million euros ($5.81 million) to install and run along with the majority of the border, which goes through sparsely populated areas as well as extensive swaths of forest and swamp.

The barrier will be reinforced with a two-metre (6.5-foot) high border fence topped with razor wire at a later date, costing an additional 41 million euros, according to the interior ministry.

Hundreds of migrants have crossed from Belarus in recent days, most of them Iraqi citizens, Lithuania has said.

Belarus allowed refugees to enter Lithuania in May in retaliation for EU sanctions imposed after Minsk forced a Ryanair flight to land on its grounds and arrested a dissident blogger on board.

“If someone thinks we will close our border with Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine and will become a holding site for those running from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Tunis and further down Africa – if someone thinks so, he is misguided, to say the least”, Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday.

Belarus is guarding the border now only as much as it is “profitable” to it, and as much as it can financially, the president said.

Lithuania responded on Wednesday by announcing it would put up the frontier barrier and deploy troops to prevent migrants crossing illegally into its territory.

In a similar development, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte announced that Lithuania’s parliament will meet on Tuesday to enact urgent legislation simplifying asylum application reviews, including cutting the first processing time to no more than 10 days.

According to the draft law, all those who crossed the border illegally would be detained indefinitely, putting an end to the present practice of allowing short visits outside of jail.

This year, over 1,500 persons illegally crossed the border from Belarus, with 900 of them crossing in the first nine days of July.

The first stretch of the new barrier, to be completed on Friday, will run 500 metres (1,640 feet) in length and measure 1.8 metres (six feet) in height, the army defence chief’s spokeswoman Ruta Montvile told Reuters.

Simonyte told the national broadcaster she did not expect the migrant flow from Belarus to subside on its own.

“As the Belarus regime is making money from these people for visa charges and, I think, gets other income from them as well – it would be difficult to expect any positive trend without additional means of impact”, she said.

According to Simonyte, Belarus was offering migrants flights to Minsk on Wednesday, using documents found on at least one migrant who had arrived in Lithuania. Baghdad was the primary airport from which individuals flew into Belarus, she claimed, adding that people also arrived from Turkey.

The Lithuanian-Belarus border stretches for 679 kilometers (420 miles). According to the interior ministry, roughly 78 kilometers (48 miles) were fenced in previous years, and about 258 kilometers (160 miles) are monitored electronically.

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