Wednesday

8th Dec 2021

Dozen ministers want EU to finance border walls

  • More and more EU states are erecting walls and fences to keep out migrants and asylum seekers. (Photo: euoparl.europa.eu)
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Interior ministers from 12 member states are demanding the EU finance border-wall projects to stop migrants entering through Belarus, in a further push towards creating a fortress Europe.

In a letter dated 7 October (Thursday), the ministers asked the European Commission to tweak external border-entry rules to include walls and fences.

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"Physical barriers appear to be an effective border protection measure that serves the interest of the whole EU, not just member states of first arrival," they said in their letter to EU commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas and EU home-affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson.

"This legitimate measure should be additionally and adequately funded from the EU budget as a matter of priority," they said.

The four-page letter was signed by the interior ministers of Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, and Slovakia.

It comes as the regime of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko is shuffling migrants mainly from Afghanistan and Iraq to its shared borders with Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland, leading to standoffs that have resulted in the loss of life of would-be asylum seekers.

Around 4,000 people have entered Lithuania, some 1,400 have gotten into Poland, and around 400 came to Latvia over the past few months. All three have since declared a state-of-emergency at their borders with Belarus, while also adopting new restrictions on asylum claims.

The letter comes ahead of a meeting of EU interior ministers on Friday, where migratory pressure on the outer rim of the EU's borders will be discussed.

The letter feeds into previous calls by the European Commission to amend the so-called 'Schengen Borders Code' before the end of the year.

The letter says the code has no clear rules in place for when EU states are faced with a so-called "hybrid attack", meaning warfare by non-military means, or with the "political instrumentalisation" of migrants.

The European Commission has repeatedly said it will not finance fences and walls along the borders.

It maintains its stalled pact on migration and asylum offers better solutions to the current fiasco, citing proposals to rapidly screen people at the border under the gaze of an independent rights watchdog.

But that pact still needs to be agreed upon by the EU institutions - a project that could take years before it is fine-tuned and implemented.

Tom Snels, a deputy head in Johansson's cabinet, on Thursday also noted that border-crossing points needed to stay open even in emergencies.

"Even the Polish government agreed, in the council recommendation in the context of Covid, that borders cannot be closed fully and completely even with a global pandemic," he said.

And asylum seekers also qualified as "essential" travellers, he added.

Meanwhile, EU states have already started, completed, or announced plans to build walls along their outer borders.

In August, Lithuania's state border guard service proposed a €150m, 4-metre high welded wire mesh fence along its 500km border with Belarus.

Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Šimonytė said it would be finished by September 2022.

Poland has announced a 2.5-metre high wall modelled on one built by Hungary on its border with Serbia in 2015.

And Greece has built a 40km-fence on its border with Turkey to keep out potential Afghan refugees.

Some Belarusian border guards have been cutting Polish barbed wire to help migrants get through, the head of Poland's ruling Law and Justice party, Jarosław Kaczyński, said at a conference in Białystock, Poland, on Thursday.

"We've already decided, also in terms of financial planning, to build a very serious barrier [on the border]. Not the kind of barrier built so far, but one which is not easy to break," he said.

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