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2021.09.14 17:05

Despite European court ruling, five Afghans remain stuck on border with Lithuania

BNS, LRT.lt2021.09.14 17:05

Although the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered Lithuania to allow five Afghans to request asylum in the country, they remain stranded on the border with Belarus.

In September, the ECHR introduced an interim measure, temporarily barring Vilnius from pushing the five Afghans back to Belarus if they had already entered Lithuanian territory.

Vilnius officials say, however, the ECHR decision does not oblige Lithuania to let them enter the country.

“[Because] Lithuania pushed them out, despite the ECHR's [...] ruling, we are asking additionally for an obligation to let them into the territory of Lithuania and accept their asylum requests,” Asta Astrauskienė, a lawyer from Spectrum Legis who represents the Afghans, told BNS on Tuesday. “We have turned [to the ECHR] and we are looking forward to the decision.”

As of Tuesday morning, the five Afghans were on Lithuania’s territory, said Astrauskienė. She has also shared video footage that allegedly shows their encounter with Lithuanian border guards.

According to her, the five individuals entered the Lithuanian territory on September 9, but were subsequently pushed back to Belarus by border guards.

Then, “they walked around 58 hours on the Belarusian territory” to the border crossing with Lithuania, Astrauskienė said.

“From the Belarusian side, they need to cross the Belarusian checkpoint to get into the Lithuanian border checkpoint and be able to lodge an asylum request. But, eventually, Belarusian officers detained them, kept them until midnight and then took them to a forest in the middle of the night in the opposite direction than they were before.”

The Belarusian guards “told them to go where they came from [and] they found themselves in Lithuania again”, she added.

“They have spent two nights in the forest in Lithuania,” according to Astrauskienė.

According to the ECHR’s press release, the applicants are citizens of Afghanistan and they arrived in Belarus in August 2021.

The ECHR was told that the asylum seekers were unable to enter Lithuania or return to Belarus on several occasions, and had remained stranded on the border. Since September 5, they have been in hiding on Lithuanian territory, the court said in its press release.

Rustamas Liubajevas, chief of the Lithuanian State Border Guard Service (VSAT), said the ECHR may have been misled and the service had no information that the five people had entered Lithuanian territory.

However, Giedrius Mišutis, spokesman for VSAT, said on Saturday that they were not allowed into the country because they did not have passports.

“It was impossible to confirm their identity, therefore, [...] border guards are entitled to direct them to a border crossing,” he told the ELTA news agency.

Lithuania is planning to turn to the ECHR with a request to revoke its earlier ruling.

Read more: Lithuania turns away Afghan migrants mentioned in European court ruling

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