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2022.01.14 11:30

MEPs and UNHCR decry Lithuania's migrant pushbacks, restrictions on aid workers

Mindaugas Laukagalis, LRT.lt2022.01.14 11:30

Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland continue to use questionable methods to keep out migrants trying to enter from Belarus and are preventing aid workers from accessing the border regions, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR).

“Pushbacks and other violations of human rights are continuing at the EU’s border with Belarus,” Sophie Magennis, a UNHCR representative, said at the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on Thursday.

It discussed the proposal of the European Commission to temporarily speed up some asylum procedures in Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland.

According to Magennis, the UNHCR and other aid groups are still being prevented from accessing the border areas in the three EU member states bordering Belarus.

“This is despite repeated requests for such access. This must be rectified, and access granted,” she said.

Aid groups and human rights activists have repeatedly criticised pushback policies implemented by countries dealing with the migration crisis orchestrated by the Belarusian regime.

In the words of Magennis, all EU countries must abide by the international agreements on migrants’ rights, while Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland must repeal the “recently adopted laws that are not in line with international asylum law”.

MEPs also questioned Lithuania’s claims that the pushback policy is legal.

“I’d like to ask Miss Ylva Johansson (the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs) what she thinks about Frontex helping Lithuania, while Lithuania allows migrant pushbacks,” Dutch MEP for the Greens Tineke Strik said during the committee meeting.

“Can she guarantee that human rights watchers are allowed to enter the border territories? Because we’re hearing that this is still an issue,” she added.

According to Johansson, Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland are responding to the Belarusian regime’s hybrid attack, which exploits migrants for political purposes.

“It is important that we acted to stop it, and that we did it right,” she said.

“But even in this dangerous and difficult situation that these three EU member states are in, they have to have legislation where pushbacks are not accepted and not legalised,” Johansson added.

She did not answer why the European Commission (EC) was not taking action against countries for these infringements but said the border tensions have “deescalated” significantly.

The EC could open an infringement procedure on the situation at the EU’s border with Belarus if there was sufficient evidence of human rights violations, EC Vice-President Margaritis Schinas added.

Read more: Lithuania will continue migrant pushbacks despite Frontex recommendations – official

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