CJEU finds Lithuania’s migrant policies violate EU law

CJEU finds Lithuania’s migrant policies violate EU law
According to the CJEU ruling, detaining people just because they entered the country irregularly is not allowed even under martial law or a state of emergency.
By Linas Jegelevicius in Vilnius July 1, 2022

Lithuanian laws that prevent irregular migrants from applying for asylum and put them in automatic detention are contrary to European directives, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled, LRT.lt, the website of Lithuanian national broadcaster LRT, reported on July 1.

The CJEU delivered its judgment in a case concerning the status of an asylum seeker detained after crossing the Lithuanian border.

Lithuania changed its asylum laws last summer after several thousand irregular migrants crossed into the country from Belarus. Lithuania detained the migrants already in the country, while instructing border guards to push back those trying to enter.

According to the CJEU ruling, detaining people just because they entered the country irregularly is not allowed even under martial law or a state of emergency.

The court noted that the threat to public order posed by migrants – an argument used by Lithuanian legislators – must be real.

The case was referred to the CJEU by the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania (LVAT) at the beginning of the year.

The Lithuanian court was hearing a complaint by a migrant who crossed the Lithuanian border in November last year and presented his passport, but under the existing laws, he was deemed to have entered Lithuania illegally and his asylum applications were not examined.

The LVAT turned to the EU court for clarification.

The CJEU looked the conditions of migrants in Lithuania – whether or not their accommodation at closed migrant centres represents detention, and whether or not it is legitimate to deny migrants the right to apply for asylum if the country is experiencing what it called “migrant influx”.

On both questions, the CJEU’s ruling was negative for Lithuania. The State Border Guard Service (VSAT) was also involved in the case, and the court examined the argument that migrants were allegedly abusing their right to asylum.

“The Lithuanian government did not explain what effect such a measure would have on the maintenance of public order and the safeguarding of internal security in the emergency situation of the massive influx of migrants,” the CJEU said, demolishing Lithuania’s reasoning on the grounds of security.

“In order to justify detention, the member state where an asylum seeker is seeking international protection must, in principle, prove that in his particular circumstances he poses a threat to national security or public order,” the court said in a press release.

Lawyer Laurynas Bieksa told LRT.lt that the court’s decision essentially says that three practices used by Lithuania in the treatment of migrants are illegal.

“Pushing people away [from the border] is illegal; what we are not calling detention is actually detention; and detention is illegal if (it is applied) just because a person has arrived without documents,” he said. “Simply put, Lithuania’s practice of turning people away without accepting their asylum applications and the practice of keeping them in detention have been judged unlawful.”