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Army to provide more assistance on Latvia/Belarus border

Although there is currently no influx of migrants on the border of Latvia/Belarus, the situation may change rapidly. The National Armed Forces (NBS) will give additional support to the State Border Guard. Whether Latvia needs to think about camps for refugees, views of politicians and experts differ, Latvian Radio reported August 4.

More NBS support

State Border Guard is already supported by specialists from the European Union Border Agency, Frontex, and more than 50 national guardsmen. The parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Baiba Bļodniece, previously has said that if the Interior Department asks for assistance, the Ministry is prepared to provide both additional human resources and technical support.

“The support we can provide is different – starting with the fact that we are prepared to help with human resources. The National Guard already provides support, but we can reinforce this support if necessary. Secondly, we can provide support with the equipment: vehicles, night-vision equipment, drones. Of course, we also are ready to give advice on how to improve border equipment. The defence industry has also demonstrated its readiness to provide support if needed," Bļodniece said.

The Ministry of Defence later said that the Minister of Defence Artis Pabriks had asked NBS to extend support to the State Border Guard already provided by the armed forces since July 12. The NBS is responsible for ensuring the protection of the eastern border of the country by deploying additional surveillance systems, providing unmanned aircraft, deploying additional personnel, as well as regular military training.

From 15 August, joint training of the NBS and the State Border Guard will take place at the border with Russia and Belarus in order to reinforce their presence in the border area.

Refugee camps

Lithuania had to react rapidly after the unprecedented flow of refugees by setting up a refugee accommodation camp near the border. But the refugees put up a protest over unsatisfactory accommodation conditions.

Should Latvia prepare for a similar scenario? The head of the Saeima Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee, Juris Rancāns (New Conservative Party), says Latvia should not think about refugee camps. “We need to take completely other measures and other policies aimed at preventing these refugees from entering the territory of Latvia. In particular, we need to rebuild the fence immediately and urgently, build a substantial fence on the border of Latvia – Belarus. Which we will discuss next week at the meeting of the Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Commission on the border of Latvia – Belarus,” said Rancāns.

He said that he would certainly not agree on setting up an additional refugee camp where irregular immigrants stay: “Our position should certainly not be that we will now take all the people here and build camps for them, and we will keep them there for taxpayers' money, and so on.”

Representative of the Latvian Human Rights Center Anna Audere disagrees with the Member as Latvia needs to prepare for various scenarios, including where irregular immigrants should be housed. “The risks must, of course, be assessed and have to be prepared. Account should also be taken of international rules, documents providing for and determining how it should be. We think that it is necessary to ensure humane living conditions for all those who come to Latvia who are also seeking asylum,” Audere said.

She also said that Latvia should think about attracting assistance workers, such as an interpreter.

The Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš will meet with the Ministers of Interior, Finance and Foreign Affairs on Wednesday, August 4, to discuss the matter.

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