Frontex's Fundamental Rights Office (FRO), which has been monitoring the situation of migrants on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, plans to recommend that Vilnius substantially change its policy of pushbacks, Delfi.lt has reported.
The FRO has evidence of collective expulsions of migrants by Lithuanian border guards, a practice that runs counter to international law and the European Convention on Human Rights, according to Delfi.lt.
Fundamental rights officers say that the current practice, where migrants crossing the border are advised to claim asylum at official border checkpoints, does not work.
The draft recommendations prepared by the FRO claim that Lithuanian officers should not send irregular migrants back to Belarus, but instead take them to border checkpoints where they could legally apply for asylum.
The office also says that Lithuania does not have a functioning system for identifying vulnerable individuals. It is particularly worrying that there may be people with severe diseases, parents with young children, elderly people, pregnant women, and victims of human trafficking among migrants pushed back to Belarus.
No plans to change policy
The Lithuanian Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that it had received Frontex's recommendations.
The ministry said the recommendations were not binding, but added it would take some of them into account.
The ministry underlined in its statement that Lithuania's policies were supported by NATO and the EU.
“Until this artificially induced situation of irregular migration subsides, Lithuania does not see any possibility to fundamentally change the current response measures at the border with Belarus,” Deputy Interior Minister Arnoldas Abramavičius said in the statement.
“We will continue our policy of denying entry to irregular migrants at least until the physical barrier is in place and the entire border is controlled by modern video surveillance equipment,” he said.
The ministry also said it was working on proposals amend the Schengen Borders Code and the European Pact on Migration and Asylum.
Lithuanian border guards say they have stopped over 8,000 people from entering the country since early August, when they were instructed to push back irregular migrants.
Before that, more than 4,200 people had crossed into Lithuania from Belarus. Lithuania has accused the Belarusian government of orchestrating migrant smuggling in order to put pressure on the EU, calling it “hybrid aggression”.
Lithuania has declared a state of emergency along its border with Belarus until mid-January.