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2021.07.16 08:00

LRT English Newsletter: Lithuania makes a hard turn on migration

Justinas Šuliokas, Benas Gerdžiūnas, LRT.lt2021.07.16 08:00

LRT English Newsletter – July 16, 2021

Responding to what they say is a migrant crisis, the government toughened Lithuania’s asylum policies this week, pushing through the parliament a slew of laws that will limit asylum seekers’ rights. Notably, irregular migrants could now be detained for up to six months and denied the full right of appeal if their asylum application is rejected.

NGOs and some legal observers have cried out about the possible unconstitutionality of the laws, while Lithuania’s political leaders plead expediency: sure, some rights may be restricted, but we’re responding to “hybrid attacks”.

Several conservative-led parliamentary committees even suggest that Europe should follow Lithuania’s example, calling the EU’s migration rules “too liberal”.

FENCES AND SOLIDARITY

Meanwhile, the country’s leaders are travelling this week to seek international assistance. The foreign minister is visiting Turkey and Iraq, from where many of the migrants are coming, and the prime minister is seeking to share experience with Greece. This does have a tinge of irony – recall, when Southern Europe was dealing with intensified migration (and a debt crisis) half a decade ago, Vilnius was less than forthcoming with a helping hand.

Back at home, the military has started constructing a barbed-wire fence along the border with Belarus, estimated to cost over €40m and expected to stop some of the migrants. However, Belarusian dissidents say the fence will make it harder for them to seek refuge from repressions of the Minsk regime.

BAGHDAD TO LITHUANIA VIA MINSK

In a cross-border investigation spanning Lithuania, Belarus and Iraq, LRT digs into the migrant smuggling scheme enabled by the Minsk regime. Travel agencies and migrant smugglers in Iraq and Belarus are extracting exorbitant fees – and security deposits – from people desperate to find their way to Europe, many of whom now end up in detention in Lithuania.

ANOTHER WAVE

We’re back in the three-digit zone, as the daily count of coronavirus infections continues to grow. The prime minister has warned that more restrictions could be reintroduced, if vaccination continues at the current slow pace, particularly among the people in their 20s and 30s. More workers will have to undergo regular testing, unless they are vaccinated, and Lithuania is already considering when to start giving booster shots, at least to the most vulnerable groups.

TWO YEARS OF NAUSĖDA

President Nausėda held a big press event for the two-year anniversary of his presidency. Reviewing his achievements, Nausėda boasted about his close personal connection with the president of Poland. He also laid blame for the slow pace of vaccination on the Health Ministry and confirmed that he would not have signed the hotly-debated civil partnership bill into law. But he didn’t have to, since it was defeated in parliament.

FANNING THE HEAT

We remain gripped in a continuing spell of tropical heat. Lithuanians have been sweeping shops for electric fans and portable air conditioning units, with retailers saying they’ll soon deplete their stocks. Construction specialists say cooling homes may become even a bigger concern in the future than heating.

EDUCATION ROUTES

Lithuanian graduates continue to migrate for education – studying abroad remains a popular option, even as Brexit makes UK universities less accessible and Denmark is cutting down on study programmes in English. Instead, more Lithuanian students are now heading for the Netherlands or Germany.

EDITORS’ PICKS

– New amendments to the law on forests would limit timber exports and favour local wood processors in state-owned timber auctions. Previously ruled unconstitutional, the bill was influenced by some of the largest Lithuanian wood processors, LRT Investigation Team reports.

– Potatoes are a vital staple food across the world and a key ingredient in more than 200 dishes, including in the Lithuanian cuisine. However, it took a long time for them to reach current prominence in the Lithuanian diet.

In this interview, Iceland's former foreign minister Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson talks about the Baltic states, Belarus, neoliberalism, and Iceland's heritage as “the first parliamentary democracy in the world”.

– In June, a team of Reuters reporters were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for their investigation on US courts shielding police accused of excessive force. One of the reporters, Andrea Januta, spoke to LRT.lt about her Lithuanian roots and the challenges of preparing the coverage.

Vilnius has been transformed into a filming location for Sisi, a costume TV drama about Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Some of the famous locations in the city and elsewhere in Lithuania were picked for their resemblance to the Habsburg royal palace.

– Fyodor Krasheninnikov, an outspoken Kremlin critic and noted political observer, says he has left Russia for Lithuania for the “foreseeable future” after coming under pressure from authorities for his work.

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Written by Justinas Šuliokas
Edited by Benas Gerdžiūnas

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