The bill should be passed by Lithuanian MPs on Tuesday, April 25. According to the Interior Ministry in Vilnius, it is intended to guarantee national security against possible destabilization attempts by nearby Belarus. NGOs see it above all as a way of perpetuating the illegal “pushback” of migrants without giving them the opportunity to apply for asylum that Lithuania has been practicing since the summer of 2021.
Passed on second reading by a large majority of parliamentarians on Thursday, April 20, the amendment to the state border law provides that in “emergency situations,” such as a massive influx of foreign nationals at the country’s borders, the government will be able to limit access to the territory. Border guards will then be authorized to expel migrants who have entered illegally and are within a 5-kilometer zone from the border. An exception was added for people fleeing armed conflict or persecution, or needing humanitarian aid.
“At first glance, the proposal seems quite balanced and even includes guarantees,” said Viktor Ostrovnoj, head of advocacy at the Lithuanian Red Cross Asylum and Migration Program. However, he pointed out that the state of emergency – implemented for the first time on August 3, 2021, due to an emergency on the border with Belarus – is still in place. With the vote of the MPs, “what was supposed to be a temporary measure to deal with short-term crises, risks becoming a new status quo,” he added.
Over 20,000 pushbacks
Erika Leonaite, a manager at the Parliament’s Human Rights Monitoring Institute in Vilnius, also criticized the text. She thinks it creates “the illusion” that Lithuania will be able to continue to guarantee the right to asylum. She argued, “it is an immigration service and not the border guards in the forest who have the skills to determine whether a person is fleeing persecution, as defined by the [UN] Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.”
As an example, Leonaite mentioned the case of four Cuban nationals who were turned away in April 2022 while trying to enter Lithuania. They were finally granted asylum in March, following the intervention by the European Court of Human Rights. “This proves that the system does not work,” said Leonaite.
According to official statistics, border guards have turned back 20,150 migrants since August 3, 2021, and the first ministerial decree authorizing pushbacks. These figures are difficult to verify because few observers are allowed on site. In August 2022, Lithuania completed the construction of an approximately 550-kilometer barrier on its 700-kilometer border with Belarus. Asylum-seekers can only enter at border crossings, provided they have proper identification.
You have 34.28% of this article left to read. The rest is for subscribers only.