A group of human rights NGOs have called on Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda to veto a recently adopted law that would allow restricting the movement of irregular migrants for up to a year. The law blatantly violates human rights and is a threat to Lithuania's reputation and democracy, they say in the statement.
The amendments to the law on the legal situation of foreigners were passed by the Lithuanian parliament last week. It still needs to be signed by the president.
Under the new amendments, if a person arrives in Lithuania during wartime, a state of emergency, or an extreme situation declared by the government, they can be detained for up to six months. If the foreigners’ asylum applications are rejected or they fail to apply for asylum and the authorities are unable to expel them from Lithuania during the initial detention period, their right to free movement may be restricted for another six months.
According to the statement by the Coalition of Human Rights Organisations and several other NGOs, the rules violate basic rights and Lithuania's international commitments.
If the law comes into force, they argue, it could seriously damage Lithuania's reputation and its democracy.
“We are aware of the challenges currently faced by Lithuania, but we stick to our opinion that rules in this bill are incompatible with human rights and therefore we ask to veto it,” the letter, signed by 14 organisations, reads.
It also says that the Coalition of Human Rights Organisations submitted its comments and recommendations to the government when it was drafting the amendments, but none of them were incorporated into the final draft.
“We note that concerns over decisions made by the Lithuanian government and parliament have been expressed not only by NGOs operating in Lithuania, but also international organisations, including the UN Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, as well as the the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović and UNICEF,” the letter reads.
Read more: Migration crisis in Baltics and Poland
Lithuania experienced an unprecedented spike in irregular migration last summer, when over 4,200 people, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, crossed into the country from Belarus. Vilnius has accused the Minsk government of orchestrating migrant smuggling, calling it “hybrid aggression”.
Since August, Lithuanian border guards have been instructed to keep migrants out, with some raising concern that the pushback policy might violate their human rights.
The Lithuanian parliament subsequently passed a law, allowing authorities to detain irregular migrants already in the country for up to six months. Critics also say that the law limits their right to appeal if their asylum claims are rejected.