With only a few kilometres of physical barrier left to be built on the border with Belarus, the crisis of irregular migrants caused by the country’s dictator last year is still far from being contained, writing at lrytas.lt news portal in its editorial section.
On the contrary, new challenges lie ahead, for which Lithuania may again be unprepared.
Lithuania, which seems to have successfully fought off last year’s wave of irregular migrants, has focused on the urgent construction of a fence on its border with Belarus.
The rapid erection of the barrier and the buzz around it helped, of course, to contain the situation. However, a strict policy of cracking down on illegals was even more effective.
Although attempts to cross the border illegally have increased again recently, it is clear that the measures taken have achieved their objective. But can some of them be justified for long?
This question will be asked more and more frequently and pointedly by the Lithuanian authorities, who have so far seemed to agree not to address possible human rights violations.
Indeed, the former mute acceptance is also beginning to dissipate. For example, after the Ministry of the Interior confirmed that a draft law legalising the migrant turn-around was being prepared, the Deputy Speaker of the Seimas, V.Mitalas, a member of the ruling Freedom Party, stated that Lithuania should listen to criticism of the migrant turn-around, not seek to legalise it.
The politician believes that strict action has helped protect our country, but now is the time to learn from the mistakes made, not to continue on the path of confrontation with the European Union.
So far, the EU institutions have also been relatively lenient. But it is inevitable that the pressure on them will increase and that the European Commission will inevitably be forced to react and act much more forcefully.
This can already be seen from the recent stern letter to Latvia from the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Mijatovic. She called on Latvia to thoroughly investigate reports of allegedly cruel behaviour by officials and to punish them.
This case is essentially about possible similar violations, which representatives of international organisations against Lithuania have criticised. What bothers them most is the collective rejection of migrants.
Our officials explain that they are not pushing migrants out but only preventing them from entering Lithuania.
But the office of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, which has been assisting our border guards, says otherwise. Landsbergis, who heads the Conservatives and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is probably right to say that those who criticise the actions of officials could make concrete suggestions on how our country should protect itself from a hybrid attack.
However, the Minister was careful not to mention that there is one way in which the problem of illegal migrants can be addressed. It is to return them to their country of origin.
The Foreign Minister went to Baghdad last July to negotiate the return of Iraqis.
A year has passed since that visit, but we have not heard of any major breakthrough in negotiations with the Iraqi authorities or other countries.
Over the year, only 1.1 thousand of the almost 4,400 nomads who arrived and were detained in Lithuania have been returned voluntarily (with a cheque for €1,000) to their home country. Only around one and a half hundred have been granted asylum in our country.
But where are the rest, and what is their fate? The Lithuanian services are not in a position to deport irregular migrants, and in many cases, the maximum 12-month legal limit for their detention has been exhausted.
The head of the Migration Department, E.Gudzinskaitė, recently admitted that there is a clear trend that foreigners who have regained their freedom of movement are returning to their original idea – to flee Lithuania as soon as possible and reach a Western European country. So far, only one other fugitive has been caught and brought back.
For Lithuania, this is the easiest way to eliminate the conundrum.
However, experts believe that it is only a temporary solution.
Realising that they will be able to continue their journey in a year’s time, more and more wanderers may decide to do so, turning Lithuania into a corridor for illegal migration, not to mention the costs of maintaining them, the costly migration procedures and the court proceedings.
Moreover, our laws have not provided for any integration of irregular migrants who have not been granted asylum but who have remained here, except for the recently opened opportunity for them to work or engage in the individual activity.
This means that when the doors of the temporary detention centres open, all those people will be out on the streets unless they find somewhere else to go.
In many cases, they will be out of work, out of housing, out of money, and angry at the less than hospitable reception they receive.
Although it is not too loudly declared, the country’s policy towards irregular migrants is geared towards this: to create conditions as unfavourable as possible for them so that others do not think of knocking on the door of Lithuania.
But it may not be possible to completely block the river of illegal migration – even a fence costing millions of euros will have a crack, especially if it is not as strong as the one the Poles built.
Therefore, once it is finished, it would be a good time to think about what we are going to do with those migrants who will not be granted asylum but will not be deported either. Does it make sense to isolate them for a year and then push them into the shadows as if they were nothing?
Of course, we can do nothing and hope that the problems will evaporate on their own, just as the hundreds of illegal migrants who have escaped are now evaporating. But will this happen?