Lithuania to legalise pushbacks with the amendments to the “Law on State Border and its Protection"
The organisations Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights, Sienos Grupė and Global Lithuanian Leaders have released an Open Letter expressing their concern around the current discussions on amendments to the “Law on the State Border and its Protection” that are taking place at the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania.
The Law amendments “aim to legalise pushbacks at the Lithuanian border with Belarus and to establish the institute of civilian supporters of border guards”. The letter brings to attention the fact that these amendments to the law would mean, not only the violation of the right to a fair and effective asylum system and the principle of non-refoulment but also the restriction of any humanitarian assistance or presence of independent human rights agents monitoring the borders. The presence of these two has been stated by EU organisations to be key “for securing stronger accountability for violations of migrants’ rights at borders”.
The Speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen claims that the law is an attempt to "find a balance between national security interests and human rights". However, human rights are a national security interest in a democratic country. The new “Law on the State Border and its Protection” would allow civilians to join the border guards as volunteers, a model that already other EU countries, such as Hungary, are implementing. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have declared that the number of people that report being beaten by border guards in Hungary is growing. Collective Aid (CA) stated on their social media that “the presence of these new hunters will make the crossing more perilous due to the racist and xenophobic narratives which personify those instructing them”.
According to the open letter, the proposal foresees that once the state-level emergency situation is declared due to the so-called “mass influx of foreigners” authorities can turn away anyone. But the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled that the declaration of a state of emergency in Lithuania does not relieve the State of its obligation to ensure access to the asylum procedure.
Dalia Krapavickaitė, Volunteer, Sienos Grupė: ”In our work, we already see how our government's current policy is forcing people on the move face horrible physical, mental trauma and even death. This law is a green light for an even more lethal approach to migration, treating people as weapons the same way that the Belarusian regime does. It would also restrict our right to help these people - we cannot allow such precedent in the EU.”
Paula Llopis, Communications Co-Coordinator, Europe Must Act: “Europe keeps moving fast-forward to very conservative, and right-winged migration policies. From EMA, we are asking the Lithuanian government to stop this legislation and start working towards a fair and functioning asylum system.”
UNHCR recently released their observations on the Law on the State Border and its protection amendments, suggesting the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania to review them and ensure that a “limited access to asylum is prevented” and that these “may put persons in need of international protection at risk of being pushed back at the border”.
Europe Must Act appeals to the EU Commission (EC) to act and do everything possible to stop the new legislation. As already some members of the EU Parliament have asked, EMA aligns with their request to investigate and queries the EC about their planned procedure if the law amendments get approved.
If the right to a fair and effective asylum system is violated, the standard procedure we expect from the EC is to conduct an infringement procedure against these law amendments “given their incompatibility with European legislation”.
Notes for Editors
Sienos Grupė is a Lithuanian NGO that provides humanitarian aid to people on the move. It also does human rights monitoring and collects data about refugees and migrants on the Belarusian - Lithuanian border, especially in cases of pushback. They aim to cooperate with local communities to save the lives of people on the move and to protect their rights. https://www.sienosgrupe.com/
Europe Must Act (EMA) is a growing grassroots movement, bringing together volunteers and NGOs to campaign for the humane, dignified and legal reception of refugees in Europe. EMA was established in March 2020 by a group of volunteers on the Greek Aegean islands of Chios and Samos in response to the ever-worsening situation of the hotspot camps. For more information about EMA, please visit https://www.europemustact.org/about-us.
Further comments are available.
Observations from UNHCR on Lithuanian law proposals https://www.unhcr.org/neu/96563-observations-from-unhcr-on-lithuanian-law-proposals.html
Open Letter: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yloZ26-Lif4bmuzWAT06cYqYSBNjpcFLbiwL2HCzetg/edit
Parliamentary Question/Pushbacks and detention of asylum seekers in Lithuania:
Dalia Krapavickaitė, Volunteer, Sienos Grupė
email@example.com | www.sienosgrupe.com
Paula Llopis, Communications Co-Coordinator, Europe Must Act
firstname.lastname@example.org | www.europemustact.org
Elsa Beau, Communications Co-Coordinator and Raising Voices Coordinator, Europe Must Act
email@example.com | www.europemustact.org