In November 2022, a petition has been submitted on behalf of Syrian applicants to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) regarding lack of access to asylum procedures in Lithuania as well as violation of the principle of non-refoulement.
The applicants fled Syria because of a real threat caused to them and their close relatives by the Syrian government and local militia. They arrived to Lithuania by crossing Lithuanian-Belarussian border, however, on several occasions they were returned to Belarus without providing them with the opportunity to apply for asylum. The applicants have entered the territory of Lithuania again, and on this occasion, because of interim measures applied by the ECtHR, prohibiting their return to Belarus, were allowed to file requests for asylum.
The petition before the ECtHR raises the question of violation of Article 2, guaranteeing the right to life, and Article 3, prohibiting torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment, because of the actions of Lithuanian officers preventing the applicants from submitting applications for asylum and returning them to Belarus, where they faced a real risk of being returned back to Syria. In this way, the imperative principle of non-refoulement, established in international refugee and human rights, has been violated. The non-refoulement principle prohibits the return of persons to the country where they would face a threat of persecution, or to a third country, without ensuring that they would not be returned to their country of origin (the so called chain-refoulement).
The petition also raises a question regarding the violation of Article 4 of the 4th Protocol of the Convention, prohibiting collective expulsion of aliens. The applicants have been subject to summary returns as a group, without assessing their individual circumstances and without providing for the opportunity for review of such decisions.
The question of violation of Article 3 of the Convention, prohibiting torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, is also being raised because of inhuman and degrading conditions in which the applicants on several occasions have been pushed back to Belarus. The applicants lacked food, water, shelter, they were forced to spend the nights in the forest under the open sky. They were mentally and physically exhausted, there were also children among the applicants, who were subjected to especially vulnerable, life threating situation. Such situation was a direct consequence of the officers‘ actions which failed to comply with the requirements of Article 3 of the Convention.
The petition also raises a question regarding the violation of Article 13 of the Convention, providing that there should exist effective remedies for the violation of Convention rights. The applicants were subject to summary returns to Belarus without any procedural guarantees and without individual decisions which might have been challenged before court. Therefore the applicants did not have any effective means to defend their rights in the case of their forced removal.
The petition to the ECtHR has been filed in cooperation between the Human Rights Monitoring Institute and the law firm Spectrum Legis. The case is part of strategic litigation programme, launched by the Institute in 2022. The purpose of the programme is to seek judicial assessment of the flaws in Lithuanian asylum and migration system and the correction of the practices of the State institutions.
The programme is part of the project “Crossing the border: monitoring and advocating for the rights of migrants and asylum seekers”, supported by the Open Society Foundations.