By JARI TANNER, Associated Press

HELSINKI (AP) – The European Union’s border agency pledges to “considerably” step up its support to Lithuania in the coming days “due to the growing migratory pressure on the Lithuanian border with Belarus” that the Baltic nation is trying to contain.

The decision by Frontex, the agency responsible for coordinating border control between EU member states and third countries, was announced on Saturday evening following a video call between Frontex executive director Fabrice Leggeri and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.

“The Lithuanian border is our common external border and Frontex stands ready to help when needed,” Leggeri said in a statement. “We are ready to increase our level of support and to deploy more officers and equipment of European standing corps” in Lithuania, a member of the EU and NATO of 2.8 million.

The Frontex operation, which began earlier this month with the deployment of a dozen officers and patrol cars, will more than double next week, the agency said.

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Nauseda’s office said separately that reinforcements promised by Frontex were to reach Lithuania by July 15 and that armed border patrols and additional translators arrived over the weekend.

In addition, a patrol helicopter will be sent to Lithuania from neighboring Poland and discussions are underway to send another helicopter from Germany, Nauseda’s office said.

In a tweet, Nauseda thanked Frontex for its support “to manage the flow of illegal migrants across the eastern border” with Belarus, another former Soviet republic that is not part of the EU.

Lithuania, which has given refuge to Belarusian opposition figures, accuses its neighbor of organizing border crossings by people mainly from Iraq, the Middle East and Africa.

In June, the number of illegal border crossings between Belarus and Lithuania increased sixfold, increasing pressure on national border control authorities, Frontex said. The phenomenon accelerated in July and more than 1,500 people entered Lithuania from Belarus in the past two months, 20 times more than in 2020.

Earlier this week, authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his country would not close its borders “and become a camp for people fleeing Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Tunisia “.

Tensions between the EU and Belarus escalated further after Belarus hijacked an airliner on May 23 to arrest an opposition journalist.

Lukashenko said his country would end cooperation with the bloc of 27 countries to stem migration in retaliation for the economic sanctions the EU has imposed on Belarus for the hijacking of passenger planes.

Lithuania started building a double barbed wire fence on the Belarusian border on Friday. It will stretch for 550 kilometers (342 miles), covering most of the nearly 680 kilometers (423 miles) border and will cost 41 million euros ($ 48 million), according to Lithuanian authorities.

In addition, Lithuania has set up tent camps to accommodate the growing number of migrants.

Follow all of AP’s stories on global migration at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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