A number of Lithuanian NGOs and rights groups have published a petition, criticising the country's policies towards irregular migrants. The government's measures violate human rights, according to the document.
“We [...] are deeply concerned about the irregular migration management measures adopted by the Government of the Republic of Lithuania and the attitude being shaped in our society and the media that demonises irregular migrants and justifies human rights violations,” reads the petition, signed by some 20 organisations.
Of particular concern are legislative changes adopted in July, allowing authorities to detain irregular migrants for up to six months.
In early August, the Interior Ministry ordered border guards to turn migrants back at the border.
According to the petition, these measures restrict access to asylum and are incompatible with Lithuania's international commitments.
“Mass detention of migrants, pushbacks and restrictions of their human rights contradict [...] the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights,” the signatories said in a press release accompanying the petition, adding that similar measures adopted by Hungary have been found to be in breach of EU law.
Over 4,100 migrants have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus over the last several months, an unprecedented hike in irregular migration.
Vilnius officials have accused Minsk of orchestrating migrant smuggling, calling it a “hybrid attack” on Lithuania and the EU. Previously, Lithuania was offering a “humanitarian corridor” to Belarusian dissidents.
“We do not support a selective asylum policy: last year a humanitarian corridor was created for Belarusians fleeing persecution, but now this country [Belarus] is considered safe for migrants and migrants who are at the border are pushed back into its territory,” Giedrė Blažytė, research manager at the NGO Diversity Development Group, is quoted in the statement.
The petition also criticises “the communication of policy makers inciting animosity and fear towards migrants”.
“Increased immigration is certainly a challenge, but it is also an opportunity, which the German government, that accepted more than a million refugees in 2015-2016, understood. Migration enriches the lives of migrants and the societies of host countries. To offer asylum is not only ethical but, as research shows, pays off financially in the long term,” Indrė Balčaitė, an independent researcher of migration and one of the authors of the petition, is quoted in the press release.
“Supporters of the petition call upon the Lithuanian state institutions to abide by international law, not to depict irregular migrants as a threat and not to push them back to Belarus,” the authors of the petition say. “[...] asylum applications must be reviewed with consideration of individual circumstances, while ensuring legal aid, information and basic humanitarian needs of asylum seekers.”