Border Guard: Organized groups engaged in people smuggling

Lately organized groups as opposed to individuals have started smuggling people from third countries into Latvia through the eastern border, General Normunds Garbars, head of the Border Guard, told Latvian Television Wednesday.

He said the Border Guard have managed to dissuade people who previously engaged in smuggling in an opportunistic manner. Now the Border Guard are seeing serious and well-organized efforts to smuggle people across the border.

Garbars said that this year could be the decisive one in terms of "showing Latvia's resolve to strengthen its border" and stand against people smugglers. 

Noting problems on the eastern border, he said that sensor systems and video surveillance systems are worn down, and the Border Guard need an extra 200 employees to bolster up their capacity.

He said high numbers of Vietnamese are illegally entering Latvia as the road through Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to the west is cheaper than through Estonia or Finland. Garbars also noted that Vietnamese citizens can obtain a Russian visa easily and they can try crossing the border while being in Russia legally. They don't choose Belarus as the country's border guards are working more actively. 

Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis (Greens) in a Wednesday interview with Latvian Radio said that the eastern border needs much more work in order for "us to be able to call it a full-fledged border". 

Latvia's border with Russia is 276 km long. A €17m fence with a total length of 90 km is to be built on stretches of the border by 2019.

Late last year the Border Guard said 470 illegal border crossers were detained in 2015. That is opposed to 144 in 2014. 

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