Around a third of irregular migrants that have crossed Lithuania’s border with Belarus this summer are minors, some 500 of them are nine years old or younger, while 150 are unaccompanied. Is Lithuania doing enough to protect children’s rights?
Last week, a 10-year-old child from a migrant family housed at Lithuania’s refugee centre in Rukla passed away. The child had suffered a head injury a year ago and was still suffering from its consequences. The boy became the first asylum seeker to die in Lithuania.
However, he is not the only seriously ill child currently staying in Lithuania’s refugee centres.
“There are children with serious conditions, such as developmental issues, cerebral palsy, autism, or epilepsy,” Edita Žiobienė, the Lithuanian ombudsperson for children’s rights, told LRT.
Asylum seekers in Lithuania are not insured, which complicates their access to health care. But according to Žiobienė, the country is doing everything to provide necessary medical services based on every person’s needs.
“We have one serious case of a very young oncological patient. It seems that her mother came to our country to seek healthcare that she could not get in her own country,” she said.
The girl and her mother are currently staying in Santariškės Clinics in Vilnius. Medics are treating this case as any other, according to Žiobienė.
“I was assured that they are people first. Doctors are putting every effort into providing the child with everything she needs. They are not blindly following the law that bars her from healthcare,” she said.
“The state is responsible for all children in its jurisdiction and must protect their rights outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Žiobienė added.
The ombudsperson welcomed progress in education as Lithuania launched special classes for 201 children of irregular migrants housed at three migrant centres. But the state must also assure children’s right to “play and move freely”.
“I am concerned about modular housing units. There is no space for children to play and do sports,” Žiobienė said. “Children living behind bars are at higher risk to develop anger issues and later join terrorist or similar organisations.”