2021.09.21 12:00

Lithuania launches probe into human trafficking, officers summon family that sheltered Afghans

Augustas Stankevičius, BNS2021.09.21 12:00

Lithuania has launched a pre-trial investigation into how the five Afghans mentioned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) got into the country, 

"The pre-trial investigation has been started not against them [the Afghans], but [...] regarding the situation, their appearance in Lithuania," Antanas Montvydas, a deputy chief of the country's State Border Guard Service (VSAT), told BNS at the parliament on Tuesday.

The probe was started earlier this week, but he could not provide the exact date.

Read more: Five Afghan migrants request asylum in Lithuania

Giedrius Mišutis, spokesman for the VSAT, said a pre-trial investigation into the hiding of illegal migrants was launched last Friday.

The probe is based on the Criminal Code's article on cross-border human trafficking.

On Tuesday, Montvydas and Asta Astrauskienė, the lawyer for the five Afghans, met with members of the Liberal Movement political group in the parliament.

Waited for ECHR ruling at a Lithuanian farmstead

In early September, the ECHR introduced interim measures in the five Afghan nationals' case against Lithuania, temporarily barring the country from sending them out.

According to the court's press release, the applicants are Afghanistan citizens who arrived in Belarus in August. They claimed to have fled Afghanistan to avoid persecution by the Taliban regime.

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

Soon after the ruling, the men were detained near the border. The VSAT said they came from Belarus and were subsequently pushed back. In mid September, Lithuanian border guards detained them again but this time allowed them to ask for asylum.

Lithuania has asked the ECHR to lift the interim measures.

On Tuesday, Montvydas said the border guards did not have any information on the Afghans being in Lithuania before their detention on September 9.

"Officers had no information that those persons arrived from Lithuania," the VSAT deputy chief said.

Astrauskienė, however, said it was not true. The Afghans lived in a farmstead in Lithuania for some time and its owners helped the migrants to contact the lawyer, she said.

"We arrived from the territory of the farmstead where those people lived. We can now say in public that the persons [the Afghans] waited for the ruling in that farmstead," the lawyer said.

She later told journalists the farmstead's resident and her family members had been summoned for questioning. "I think they are trying to find a scapegoat," Astrauskienė said.

No alternatives

Despite claims by the Lithuanian government, foreign nationals are unable to ask for aslum at border checkpoints and diplomatic representations after being pushed back, according to lawyer Laurynas Biekša.

Attending the meeting with the Liberal Movement group, he said it was impossible to ask for asylum as documents were taken from the irregular migrants.

"Who are we trying to fool? We are pushing those people into nowhere," the lawyer said.

Meanwhile, Montvydas said Belarus is a safe country for migrants, therefore, there's no basis for them to travel irregularly to the European Union.

Over 4,100 migrants have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus so far this year. Vilnius accuses the Minsk regime of orchestrating the unprecedented migration influx, calling it "hybrid aggression".

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