The Ombudsperson for Child’s rights made recommendations on ensuring the rights of unaccompanied foreign minors travelling through Lithuania

August 20, 2023

This April, the Office of the Ombudsperson for Child’s rights received a report on a possible violation of the rights of a refugee child. The information received indicated that a group of five Syrian nationals, including an unaccompanied minor, have been detained for a week at the State Border Guard post. Their phones were taken away, they were prevented from contacting their relatives or lawyers, and a lawyer who arrived at the border was prevented by the State Border Guard from meeting the foreigners. The Ombudsperson for Child’s Rights investigated a complaint regarding the rights and legitimate interests of an unaccompanied foreign minor in Lithuania. In order to protect the privacy of the minor, the conclusion of the investigation is not public. The investigation found that the State Border Guard Service did not comply with the legislation on the rights of unaccompanied minors. Such behaviour of officials, which is contrary to the law, is a recurrent phenomenon, and the Ombudsperson for Child’s Rights drew attention to the situation and made a public statement on ensuring the rights of unaccompanied foreign minors travelling through Lithuania from another EU country. The Ombudsperson’s public position draws attention to the provisions that must be complied with regardless of the legal status of the unaccompanied alien minor and the circumstances of his/her arrival in Lithuania:

  1. The State Child Rights Protection and Adoption Service must be informed immediately. The Service has to learn about unaccompanied minors from NGOs, a lawyer, the Aliens Registration Centre or the unaccompanied minor themselves.
  2. The immediate appointment of a guardian for the minor is mandatory, as current data show that unaccompanied minors do not receive a guardian immediately.
  3. It is important to ensure the presence of a specialist representative of the State Child Rights Protection and Adoption Service at the interview of an unaccompanied minor; currently the representatives are not invited in every case, and in some cases representatives are only invited to secondary interviews with minors.
  4. It is imperative to ensure that unaccompanied minors are properly identified and that this sensitive and vulnerable group is properly registered. In cases where there is a possibility to transfer foreign nationals to the Republic of Latvia, the SBGS does not conduct interviews of minors, nor does it determine their legal status. For this reason, the SBGS is unable to provide information on unaccompanied minors, and there are cases where minors are incorrectly identified as being accompanied and are not provided with the guarantees for unaccompanied minors.
  5. The right to representation must be guaranteed. The actions of the SBGS in not allowing the minor’s legal representative to meet with the represented child are unjustifiable, and when minors are not appointed a legal representative, legal aid is not provided and the minor has no access to his/her rights.
  6. It is important to ensure that the unaccompanied minor has access to non-governmental organisations. It was found that minors do not always have access to NGOs and their assistance.

The Ombudsperson for Child’s Rights draws the attention of the State Child Rights Protection and Adoption Service to the inadequate implementation of the functions of the Service departments and suggests that, upon receipt of information about an unaccompanied minor, the Office should immediately assess the situation of the child and take a decision on protection and assistance measures. It also highlights the need to monitor the temporary accommodation of unaccompanied minors.

It is particularly important to comply with legislation on children’s rights and to ensure that every right to which minors are entitled is guaranteed, as minors are a particularly vulnerable group. The situation is even more complicated when the minor is an unaccompanied alien, often due to the complexity of the arrival and asylum-seeking experience. Unaccompanied children face many challenges in unfamiliar environments, and therefore it is essential to provide the necessary assistance and facilitate the migration process for minors, while ensuring respect for their guaranteed human rights.

You can read the Ombudsperson’s report here.

Information prepared in the framework of the project “Crossing the border: monitoring and advocating for the rights of migrants and asylum seekers” supported by the Active Citizens Foundation.

Photo: Ahmed Akacha I Pexels