2021.10.08 10:12

EU's border agency records 'collective expulsions' in Lithuania

Nikolaj Nielsen, euobserver2021.10.08 10:12

At least 14 reports of collective expulsions in Lithuania have been lodged by officers from the EU's border agency, Frontex, said a rights watchdog.

"To my knowledge, now I think there are at least 14 serious incidents reports," Katarzyna Wencel, a Frontex fundamental rights monitor, was quoted by EUobserver news website.

Wencel made her comments on Thursday at an event organised by Brussels-based think tank, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). She said the reports indicated: "practices of collective expulsions, which is, which is I think the most problematic."

"Frontex officers are not directly involved with the so-called redirection of people," she noted.

Collective expulsions of people crossing a border to seek asylum is a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The Warsaw-based agency has 126 officers in Lithuania, with some patrolling the border along Belarus with their Lithuanian counterparts. The European Asylum Support Agency (Easo) is also on the ground.

The agency presence followed almost €37m of EU support to Lithuania, as well as a recent visit by EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson.

The money is aimed to "help improve reception capacity in Lithuania following the exceptional number of people irregularly crossing the Lithuania-Belarus border."

Lithuania had as of mid-August detained over 4,100 people at its border, compared to 81 for the whole of 2020. The spike came as the Minsk regime started shuffling migrants to the border with Lithuania, Latvia, and then Poland.

Lithuania also made legislative changes over the summer allowing authorities to dismiss asylum claims and drive people back to the border without reviewing individual cases.

In September, the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles (Ecre), said that "these legislative changes and practices create preconditions for the collective expulsion of asylum seekers."

Lithuania helps Frontex probe reports on collective expulsions – border guard chief

Lithuania is helping Frontex investigate reports of collective expulsions, Rustamas Liubajevas, commander of the Lithuanian State Border Guard Service (VSAT), said later on Friday.

"I cannot comment in detail, because all the incidents recorded by Frontex are being investigated," Liubajevas told the Baltic News Service. "There is a procedure in place when the agency carries out any operation, if there is a special event, a report on serious incidents is drawn up."

"The reports are investigated jointly with the member state, specifically with us. We have provided all the information so that these incidents are clarified and closed as soon as possible," he said. "We have provided information that this is being carried out in accordance with Lithuanian legislation."

The reports indicate a possible violation, but it is not yet an established fact that it has occurred, according to the commander.

Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė said that she had not seen Frontex's information and knew only what had been reported in the media about the incidents, but stressed that Lithuanian officials were acting in line with national law.

"We will certainly look into that, but we have taken decisions in our national law that one can only enter Lithuania through a legal way, that is, through a border checkpoint or by filing their request with our embassy," the minister told BNS.

"If any questions arise, I think we will look into that and present our findings," she added.

This story originally appeared at EUobserver, partners of LRT English. Additional reporting by BNS.

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