Latvia-Belarus border situation stable but still risky, say border guard

Ten to twenty attempts to illegally cross the Latvian-Belarusian border are prevented every day, Latvian Radio reported October 11.

Since August 10, more than 1,500 refugees have been prevented from illegally crossing the country's border, 38 have been allowed into the country. Until the fence is fully built, risks exist.

 Lieutenant-Colonel Juris Kusiņš, deputy head of Daugavpils administration for border control and immigration said: "We already knew that Lithuania had a critical situation and Lithuania's adoption of more extreme measures channeled this wave towards the Republic of Latvia. At present, this situation with refugee flows is possible at any point of the 172.9 kilometer-long border of Latvia and Belarus."

"There are foot patrols, quadricycles and canines [..] Of course, there are also technical features - video cameras, presence sensors and other features. National Armed Forces are involved," said Kusiņš.

For the purposes of communication with refugees, border guards use specially prepared messages, which are recorded in several languages.

"People are stopped while crossing the State border, Latvian border guards are in front of them, and calls in different languages make it clear that this is a criminal act if they try to cross the border. In most cases, it works. But if the fact of crossing the border has already happened, these persons are immediately returned to the Republic of Belarus. These individuals are predominantly in groups 3 to 20, mostly Iraqi citizens, but also from Afghanistan, Yemen, Cuba, Bangladesh. These are both families and individuals," said Kusiņš.

Initially, there were tents for temporary detention, which are still in place, but they were last used in August. The situation on the border has stabilized, although attempts to cross the border still happen.

The MK order on the announcement of the emergency gave border guards every right to return migrants to the country of origin immediately. There are also exceptions, of course, says Juris Kusiņš: "For humanitarian conditions we allowed 38 persons to cross the national border. Mostly families, families with children. The last such case was on September 20, when a family from Afghanistan was allowed to cross the country's border where there was a husband, wife, and 4 underage children, the youngest of whom was 3.5. They were housed in the accommodation center of the detained foreigners in Daugavpils."

In the center in Daugavpils, with a capacity of 84 persons, around 70 refugees are currently staying. Half of them are in the status of detained foreigners, half are asylum seekers.

If compared to neighboring countries, the situation in Latvia's border area is relatively calmer, said Juris Kusiņš: "In Lithuania, this figure reaches approximately 400 persons within a week, while Polish border guards prevent up to 500 attempts to cross the country's border illegally within one day."

Photos: Sylvia Smagare

The situation in the border with Belarus is not only in the eyes of local journalists. Finnish television representatives were also visiting Silene border post over the weekend: "We have come here directly because of the Belarusian crisis. […] This is a politically very hot issue, as the people have divided into two parts, one worrying that there may be a large flow of refugees from here on the Belarusian side to Finland, as has already been seen in Finland in 2015. There is a second part that says that everyone should be invited and that refugees should be allowed to stay in Finland. There are currently two topics in Finland, which are the most debated - about Covid and about people (who are few in Finland) who are opposed to vaccination, and the other is about the refugee issue."

The state of emergency in the border area continues, initially announced to last until November 10. Possibly, colder weather will also reduce the flow of refugees on the border.

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