2022.08.29 18:15

Lithuania will continue to turn migrants away, PM says

BNS 2022.08.29 18:15

Lithuania will continue its policy of pushing irregular migrants back from its border, Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė says, but Vilnius faces “a lot of work” to bring its national legislation into line with EU law.

According to Šimonytė, the state of emergency currently in place in Lithuania allows border guards to keep irregular migrants away.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) recently ruled that Lithuanian laws preventing irregular migrants from applying for asylum and allowing authorities to put them in automatic detention were in breach of EU directives. However, the Interior Ministry has indicated that it plans to propose legislation regularising the practice.

Read more: CJEU finds Lithuania’s migrant policies in violation of EU law

“I’m not saying that there can’t be legislative amendments, because there probably will have to be some. But what they could be, so that there is no question of their compatibility or incompatibility with international law when there is no state of emergency, [...] is something that still requires a lot of work,” PM Šimonytė told reporters on Monday.

The prime minister said the current “situation is exceptional”, as shown by daily statistics of attempted border crossings and “the overall geopolitical context in the region in general”.

Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė is planning to submit legislative amendments to the parliament during its upcoming autumn session to cement in law the policy of pushing back irregular migrants.

Border guards currently deny entry to irregular migrants based on the minister’s decree.

Bilotaitė has said earlier that the respective law would allow border guards to use such measures when the country is under an extreme situation, a state of emergency or martial law.

Lithuanian border guards have stopped over 13,000 irregular migrants from entering the country from Belarus since August 2021.

Critics say that these actions effectively amount to expulsions, a practice that violates international law. The authorities maintain, however, that they are not allowing migrants into Lithuanian territory, not pushing them back.

The Fundamental Rights Office of Frontex, the EU’s border agency, has also criticised Lithuania for “collective expulsions”.

According to the office, the practice that runs counter to international law and the European Convention on Human Rights.

It says that the current system where migrants caught attempting to cross the border at non-designated places are advised to claim asylum at an official border checkpoint does not work in practice.

Lithuania last week completed the construction of a 500-kilometer-long fence along its border with Belarus.