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EU nations urge stronger borders to ease migration pressure

Interior ministers from European Union nations experiencing pressure from unauthorized migration asked Friday for more action to strengthen and protect the bloc’s external borders.

Ministers from countries that included Greece, Poland, Italy, Austria and France, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, participated in a border security security conference in Lithuania's capital along with European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.

They said that reinforcing the EU's borders and cracking down on people smugglers would protect EU citizens and the lives of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa who undertake hazardous journeys to reach Europe.

Lithuania's Minister of the Interior Agne Bilotaite speaks during a press conference at the border with Belarus during the participants of the Conference on Border Management visit Lithuanian-Belarusian border, near the village Kurmelionys, some 40km (24 miles) east of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP PhotoMindaugas Kulbis)

“We must protect our borders from aggression, and we need to protect our people,” Johansson told the conference participants.

Doing that, she said, requires stopping people fleeing poverty and conflicts in their home countries from starting out on migration routes.

“We can't wait until we have desperate migrants at our borders. We need to act sooner," Johansson said, stressing that preventative actions must respect the rights of individuals to seek asylum.

A general view of the Conference on Border Management at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania in Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. (AP PhotoMindaugas Kulbis)

Poland's interior minister, Mariusz Kaminski, call for amendments to EU migration laws. Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania saw migrants trying to cross illegally into the EU from Belarus.

The EU has accused the authoritarian president of Belarus of encouraging the unusual activity in retaliation for sanctions the bloc imposed. At least 12 people died while seeking the chance to enter Europe.

Follow AP's migration coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

Members of the Lithuania State Border Guard Service and Lithuanian army soldiers patrol on the border with Belarus during a visit by participants of the Conference on Border Management near the village Kurmelionys, some 40km (24 miles) east of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. The conference main objective is to discuss issues of fundamental importance in an open and informal way and to find common denominators on the issues of the protection of external borders, the response to hybrid attacks and the elimination of abuses of the EU asylum system. (AP PhotoMindaugas Kulbis)

Members of the Lithuania State Border Guard Service on the border with Belarus during a visit by participants of the Conference on Border Management near the village Kurmelionys, some 40km (24 miles) east of the capital Vilnius, Lithuania, Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. The conference main objective is to discuss issues of fundamental importance in an open and informal way and to find common denominators on the issues of the protection of external borders, the response to hybrid attacks and the elimination of abuses of the EU asylum system. (AP PhotoMindaugas Kulbis)