2021.09.15 13:00

Lithuania looks to legalise indefinite detention of migrants

updated, BNS2021.09.15 13:00

Lithuania’s Interior Ministry is looking to legalise indefinite detention irregular migrants in an extreme situation, removing the current limit of six months.

At present, undocumented migrants may only be detained at temporary housing facilities for up to six months, which the court may extent to up to two years.

“Under the current rules, after six months, [the officers] have to turn to the court for each individual case,” Vice Minister Arnoldas Abramavičius told the parliamentary Security and Defence Committee on Wednesday.

“For vulnerable groups, it’s likely that the court would forgo the limits on movement,” he added.

Lithuania current has declared a nationwide emergency situation due to the influx of irregular migrants.

During an extraordinary parliament session in July, the Interior Ministry already made such proposals, but the Seimas then set a period of six months, fearing that vulnerable people might be negatively affected by indefinite detention.

Currently, if Lithuania does not grant asylum to a person but is unable to deport them, the person would have to be issued a temporary residence permit, according to the vice minister.

Abramavičius said that the ministry plans to discuss the proposed changes with non-government organisations and other institutions.

According to the vice minister, some institutions have already expressed their disapproval, saying the changes would go against human rights.

Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė said later on Wednesday that the ministry had not yet made a final decision on whether to submit its proposal for indefinite detention.

"I think we will consider all the international commitments and other things and will make decisions," she told reporters.

Resistance from Iraq

Iraq is refusing to discuss the forced return of Iraqi citizens, Lithuania’s Ambassador for migration and former foreign minister Linas Linkevičius told the committee.

"Our representative is ready to go to Iraq but is still awaiting a visa," he said.

Special status, curfew among proposals

Laurynas Kasčiūnas, chairman of the committee, said that if migrants are allowed to freely move after six months, the country could expect a new wave of irregular migration.

"A narrative might be created that [if you] just wait for six months and then you will be able to move freely. [...] And we are declaring that Lithuania will never be an illegal migration route," he said.

Dovilė Šakalienė, a Social Democrat member of the committee, said that if economic migrants were allowed to stay in the EU, the very principle of the refugee status would be distorted.

"If they do not meet the requirements of the Refugee Convention and we still give them residence permits, [...] and the real refugees cannot receive assistance as they become a minority and in fact become invisible," she said.

Šakalienėalso proposed following Denmark's example and buying accommodation services for irregular migrants closer to their home country, ensuring their living conditions and other rights.

The lawmaker also proposed considering introducing a new status of an illegal migrant. In such a case, a foreign national would be allowed to live in Lithuania but they would be banned from leaving the country.

The interior vice minister acknowledged that such a status is being considered.

Meanwhile, Justina Jakštienė, a vice minister at the Social Security and Labor Ministry, said proposals had been presented to the Interior Ministry to apply other measures, not detention, for members of vulnerable groups.

"A curfew could be introduced and not all members of one family might be let out at once. Probably, only four hours of free movement could be given. There are all sorts of measures," she added.

As of September 15, around 2,140 migrants have asked for asylum in Lithuania, according to the Interior Ministry. Some 562 requests have already been considered and rejected.

Meanwhile, 140 foreigners have voluntarily left Lithuania or have been sent out.

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