When the so-called migration crisis hit Lithuania in 2021, it became clear that Lithuania was unprepared for the challenge of the migration phenomenon in various senses, both in the short and the long term. While attempts are still being made to paint the migrant crisis as a “well-managed hybrid attack crisis”, it is important to note that many human rights violations have been committed throughout this period. People’s rights were violated when they were turned away trying to cross the border, or when they found themselves in Lithuania, when – children, women, men – were deprived of their fundamental rights and freedoms. The Human Rights Monitoring Institute together with its partners Mental Health Perspectives has prepared a publication “Analytical study: the situation of migrants and asylum seekers in Lithuania”. The study provides an overview of the migrant crisis situation, human rights violations and the individual experiences of migrants in Lithuania’s Foreigners’ Registration and Refugee Reception Centres.
2021 Migrant crisis begins
2021, a significant increase in the number of migrants in Lithuania has led to the so-called migration crisis. As a result, in 2021, July 13, the Seimas adopts a resolution and amendments to the law, which are criticised by the EU Court of Justice and the United Nations. 2023, The Constitutional Court of Lithuania has recognised that some provisions of the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens are unconstitutional. Nevertheless, in 2023. New amendments to the Law on the Border and its Protection were adopted, a step towards further violations of human rights.
Interviews with migrants and asylum seekers
In order to understand migrants’ experiences in registration and reception centres, 18 interviews were conducted. These interviews focused on living conditions in Naujininkai, Kybartai, Pabradė and Rukla. The interviews showed that conditions in different centers differed: with some people reporting difficult conditions without basic amenities and others reporting relatively better conditions with access to basic services. The experiences of migrants mentioned in the study revealed a wide range of human rights violations in different areas: poor living and feeding conditions, lack of health care, difficult relations with workers, language barriers, lack of legal aid, lack of financial support, violence, racism and homophobia, lack of internet, telephone and employment, and complexity of administrative processes. Constant uncertainty, fear and stress about the future, lack of support and acceptance have also had a significant impact on migrants’ mental health.
Based on the data gathered during the interviews, the study team prepared recommendations to improve the situation of migrants in Lithuania. In the further development of migrant policies, it is important to take into account international human rights standards and:
- Promote the development of an EU-wide solidarity mechanism whereby the mechanisms for the application, accommodation and processing of migration and asylum seekers are distributed evenly, proportionately and in a binding manner among EU Member States, while ensuring human rights. At the same time, end the policy of transferring asylum and protection obligations to countries of origin and transit.
- Abandon the legalisation and practice of pushbacks at the Lithuanian-Belarusian border and the collective expulsion of foreigners who have entered Lithuanian territory, which is prohibited by international law.
- Stop and prohibit the use of deterrent measures or psychological coercion, any physical coercion or other special measures by state border guards against irregular migrants crossing the border at undesignated places.
- Ensure the standards of living conditions in reception and registration centres: a constant supply of hot and clean water, lighting that meets health standards, adequate clothing, tools and furniture.
- Ensure that health services are regular and easily accessible, so that there is no long waiting time for doctors’ appointments, confidential translation services during visits, access to comprehensive information on health care procedures, access to ambulance services and psychological services.
- Ensure access to mental health services for migrants and asylum seekers – these services must be systematically communicated, follow-up counselling must be available, and counselling must be culturally sensitive. Qualified translators and cultural mediators should be used as needed.
The full recommendations and the full text of the Study can be found here.
The analytical study was published within the framework of the project “Crossing the border – Monitoring and Advocacy for the Rights of Migrants and Asylum Seekers” supported by the Active Citizens Foundation, funded by the EEA Financial Mechanism, and the project “At the Border and Beyond: Monitoring and Advocacy for the Rights of Migrants and Asylum Seekers” supported by the Open Society Foundations European and Eurasian Programme. The project “Crossing the Border – Monitoring and Advocacy on the Rights of Migrants and Asylum Seekers” is carried out in cooperation with Mental Health Perspectives.