Amnesty International has published a damning report, alleging dire conditions in Lithuania’s migration centres. Among its findings, the human rights NGO has documented allegations of racism and violent pushbacks, LRT.lt, the website of Lithuanian national broadcaster LRT, reported on June 27.
In the report, Amnesty said the country’s authorities “have arbitrarily detained thousands of people in militarised centres, where they have been subjected to inhumane conditions, torture and other ill-treatment”.
During the dozens of interviews and visits conducted in Lithuania, researchers found migrants being “held for months on end in squalid, prison-like centres” and “denied access to fair asylum procedures and subjected to other serious human rights violations in the hope that they will ‘voluntarily’ return to the countries they fled from”.
The report also points at the contrasting welcoming Ukrainian refugees have received in the country, alleging “institutional racism embedded within Lithuania’s migration system”.
The interviewees said they had been beaten, insulted and intimidated. There have also been cases of sexual violence, which have already been reported in Lithuania.
In summer last year, hundreds of people, mostly from countries in Africa and the Middle East, began arriving in Lithuania via Belarus. Vilnius and Brussels accused the Minsk regime of orchestrating the migration crisis in response to sanctions imposed in the wake of repressions against the Belarusian opposition.
In August 2021, Lithuania adopted the policy of so-called pushbacks, returning the people to Belarus. Meanwhile, over 4,000 people managed to cross the border irregularly. Some 2,627 are still being held in de facto detention in Lithuania’s migrant centres today.
According to Amnesty, “there have been numerous reports of ill-treatment, some amounting to torture, and disproportionate use of force, including through the use of pepper spray and other special equipment”.
In one interview, an asylum seeker alleged they would be placed in isolation if they spoke to the media or human rights organisation about their conditions.
Amnesty also denounced the legal aid system as “a sham”.
“Lawyers expected to represent asylum-seekers in asylum proceedings are contracted by the same Migration Department whose decisions the lawyers are supposed to challenge, exposing the lawyers to the risk of a conflict of interest,” the report said.
Amnesty concludes that Lithuania had breached both international and EU law. It also accused Brussels of “appeasement”, saying “the European Commission’s response ranged from outright praise to tacit endorsement”.
Among its recommendations, Amnesty calls on Lithuania to halt pushbacks, release people kept in the centres, and provide adequate healthcare and legal support.
The report follows earlier statements by international NGOs, including Doctors Without Borders, decrying the conditions of asylum seekers in Lithuania.
Officials maintain Lithuania is providing an option for the migrants to return to their country of origin by accepting €1,000 payouts. The government is also mulling allowing rejected asylum seekers freedom of movement within the country and finding work.