Latvia to build €10.5m fence on border with Belarus

Latvia intends to build a 120-km fence on the border with Belarus by 2021, reported Latvian Radio on November 1. 

Why build fences?

As LSM reported in a 2016 feature over the planned fence on the border with Russia, the fence attempts to curb illegal migration on Latvia's border - concurrently the EU's eastern border. At the time, Latvia's border with Belarus was part of the route Iraqi citizens take to Europe, with 176 people caught illegally crossing that border in 2015.

Latvia is to finish building the fence on the border with Russia in 2018, as well as start a new fence on the border with Belarus. Next year €3.7m are to be spent on reinforcing the eastern border.

The border between Latvia and Belarus stretches for 173 kilometers. It is planned to finish the fence in 2020.

Border guard Oļegs Jemašovs told Latvian Radio the fence will be identical to the one on the border with Russia.

"The fence will be two meters high with a barbed wire top. It will not cover the whole border and it will be interrupted by natural obstacles, like lakes, swamps and rivers," he said.

At present, Border Guards say, there are no mechanical obstacles that could deter people trying to cross the border illegally.

"Currently we are developing and maintaining a six-meter border strip. We're plowing and milling the ground, maintaining the sand strip, and our infrastructure: footpaths, patrolled by the Border Guard on foot or on ATVs or snow bikes. There are eight watchtowers on the border, each 32 meters high. We're vigilant night and day," said Jemašovs.

The border is frequented both by illegal immigrants and smugglers. 

"If we speak about illegal immigration, the latest tendencies show Afghans and Iraqis [are mostly the ones trying to cross the border illegally]. The last case this month was on the Belarus side when their border guards detained 10 Vietnamese citizens," says Border Guard Aigars Zvaigzne. 

While just 14 trespassers have been detained on Latvia's side of the border with Belarus by October this year, the five-year statistic is 300.

Migration seems to be decreasing, but the border is, however, increasingly popular among smugglers. 

"There have been 114 cases when cigarette smugglers were detained in the first nine months of 2017. It's twice as much as last year. More than 25 million cigarettes have been confiscated on the border," said Jemašovs.

While most goods are smuggled through border posts via trains and cars, one fifth of the smuggled goods were confiscated on the green area of the border.

Oļegs Jemašovs

It is true the fence will not be insurmountable to the most dedicated of criminals, however it will be a concrete obstacle to slow down or encumber migrants or smugglers, especially if it's fitted with state-of-the-art technology, say Latvia's Border Guards.

"If it is improved in time and fitted with sensors that would allow us identify the location, well, that's state of the art," said Oļegs Jemašovs.

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