A couple of years ago, the reports of third-country nationals being caught entering Latvia and the European Union illegally – usually from Russia – appeared almost daily. But in 2019 the number of offenders has dropped significantly, reported Latvian Radio.
The Latvian State Border Guard says this has been achieved by improving both the border infrastructure and the legal definitions and punishments for illegally entering the country. However, in order to continue with improvements, further strengthening of the border is needed according to State Border Guard chief, General Guntis Pujāts.
The number of illegal border-crossers last year, in 2019, was almost 10 times lower than it was five years ago. There were 463 offenders caught on the eastern border in 2014, but last year there were just 60.
“Border construction, improvement of infrastructure, use of more technical means, cooperation with Russia and Belarus, successful operational activities, preventive measures have all combined to reduce illegal border crossings. Also global migration tendencies – we were previously regarded as a crossroads for Vietnamese trying to enter Europe, but this route is no longer attractive,” said Pujāts.
Third-country nationals trying to enter the European Union by crossing the border illegally and the people-smugglers who provide services to help them in their efforts have also been dissuaded by the possibility of more severe penalties if they are caught.
“There have also been legislative changes to criminalize illegal crossing of the border. There are stiffer penalties for smuggling people across the border. Having more than five people in an organized group results in a real custodial sentence that also discourages them from participating in an organized attempt,” Pujāts said.
Among those convicted recently are Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian citizens. In recent years, people from Iraq, Pakistan, India and elsewhere have been trying to cross the Latvian border illegally, but Vietnamese have featured particularly prominently.
Pujāts says cooperation with neighboring countries Russia and Belarus has also improved. Upon arrest, the offender can be returned to their country of origin.
But the border guard chief emphasizes that there is still room for improvement. One group of 12 offenders has already been detained this year and even factors such as the unusually warm winter may allow more illegal border crossing attempts than would otherwise be the case at this time of year.
“We can say that 2019 was a year of success, though whether it is possible to reduce the number of offenders to zero is unlikely,” Pujāts admits.
This year, the Border Guard is committed to further strengthening the border and improving infrastructure.