2021.10.07 17:23

Migrants kept in ‘inhuman and degrading’ conditions in Lithuania, says watchdog

Domantė Platūkytė, LRT.lt2021.10.07 17:23

In Lithuania, irregular migrants sleep in damp, cold, and crowded rooms. They lack proper food, hot water, and medication. Special needs are ignored, while some do not even know how to apply for asylum, a special investigation has found.

On Thursday, the Ombudsmen’s Office of the Lithuanian parliament published a report on irregular migrants’ living conditions in Lithuania. The document was submitted to the European Court of Human Rights, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the European Council’s Commissioner for Human Rights, and other institutions.

Cold and humid

The Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office visited 18 migrant centres in Lithuania. During their visits, the watchdog found that most irregular migrants, including minors, were housed in temporary accommodation, such as tents and hangars.

Most of these constructions were not sealed and did not protect against rain. On rainy days, migrant tents, sleeping mattresses and sheets were damp. Foreigners claimed that sleeping under such conditions was impossible, some of them got sick.

No privacy

Female and male migrants, living in modular housing units in Rukla, had to share showers and toilets. Some bathrooms did not have locks, while showers were only separated with curtains. Female migrants claimed that their privacy was violated, and they did not feel safe.

Adequate hygiene standards were also not met.

“The residents did not have any cleaning supplies, so they could not clean bathrooms and toilets,” the Ombudsmen's report said. “According to the migrants, only 4–5 people could take a shower before the hot water ran out. They then had to wait for an hour for the water to warm up again.”

Restricted movement

Up to 30 migrants were housed in one room in a former school in Druskininkai. Some of them had to sleep in corridors, while 67 foreigners, including males, females, and minors, were cramped in a gym.

Here, people slept on mattresses, not everyone had warm duvets. Migrants had to stay in the gym all day and were only allowed to go outside for 15 minutes.

“Most foreigners spent around 40 days with their freedoms being constrained like this,” the report said.

According to the Ombudsmen, restricting migrants’ freedoms without providing adequate conditions violated the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

No hot food

The Ombudsmen’s Office also found that migrants lacked warm food in almost all temporary accommodation places. They were only given dry rations that were sometimes supplemented with products provided by the Red Cross.

Most migrants said that food and water supplies were not sufficient. Some complained about constant stomach aches due to inadequate nutrition, adding that they seldom got the medication they asked for.

Lack of medical attention

According to some migrants, they had swollen feet, backaches, toothaches, and cold, but only rarely received medical attention. The Lithuanian State Border Guard Service (VSAT) said doctors examined migrants only in health emergencies.

“Migrants can only get the necessary health assistance. They are required to pay for other medical services or prescribed medicine. The interviewed migrants said they did not have enough money for such services or could not make money transfers because they could not access their bank accounts,” the Ombudsmen’s report said.

It added that Lithuania often failed to meet the needs of vulnerable groups. The report mentioned minors with Down’s syndrome, schizophrenia, and other disabilities who did not receive any special treatment. Pregnant women also lacked medical attention and their dietary needs were ignored.

Some migrants belonged to the LGBTQ+ community and were housed together with foreigners who were homophobic due to their religious beliefs or other views.

According to the report, the initial assessment by VSAT does not involve questions on migrants’ sexual orientation or gender identity and thus their special needs are not identified. Assessments on whether a certain person is a victim of human trafficking, rape, torture, or psychological abuse are also skipped.

Moreover, migrants complained about the lack of information on their legal status and asylum procedures in Lithuania. Some said they did not know whether they had applied for asylum in Lithuania or how to do it. Their phones were often confiscated, so they could not contact NGOs or their relatives, asking for help or more information.

Based on such findings, the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office concluded that conditions of irregular migrants in Lithuania are “inhuman and degrading”.

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