Landsbergis to critics of immigrants‘ push-backs: offer something better

Lithuanian border guard
Lithuanian border guard DELFI / Tomas Vinickas

Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis believes Lithuania’s policy of turning away migrants is not perfect, but a better alternative has not yet emerged, Vilmantas Venckūnas is writing at the news portal

Landsbergis said that from the beginning of the hybrid attack on Belarus, he had promised Lithuania would be transparent in all its actions.

“Because our interpretation was that this is not in any way natural migration – people fleeing war, natural disasters. This is economic migration instigated by political goals. In other words, these are not even people looking for a better life. They are being advised,” Landsbergis told the Seimas on Tuesday.

He said Lithuania was looking for the best response to the pressure exerted by Belarus. A strategy of turning away migrants was chosen.

“Unfortunately, no other response could be found,” Landsbergis explained.

He insisted that in his conversations with representatives of foreign countries, he had not received any criticism of Lithuania’s policy on migrants or calls to change it.

“There are understandable questions. I try to answer them as the facts are. At the same time, if you find better solutions, please suggest them. So far, unfortunately, there are none. This policy is unacceptable, but until we find a better one, it is being applied not only in Lithuania but in many other countries as well,” said Mr Landsbergis.

On migrant turn-around: a balance between security and human rights

Parliament Speaker Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen said that the Law on reversing illegal migrants at the border, which is being discussed in the Seimas, is an attempt to strike a balance between national security interests and human rights.

“There are several safeguards in the bill, considering some of the comments. We need to balance all the time between national security, between the perception that the Lukashenko regime is using people to try to create tensions and danger, and, of course, the concern for human rights,” the Speaker of the Seimas told reporters on Tuesday.

She confirmed that she would support the draft during the reading but also noted that it was subject to change.

“These are difficult decisions, but I would say that a lot of attention is being paid to taking into account the comments, and the draft is still subject to change,” Čmilytė-Nielsen said.

NGOs worldwide issued a statement on Tuesday urging the Seimas not to adopt a law legalising the rounding up of irregular migrants, while human rights organisation Amnesty International said on Monday that such a law would “give the green light to torture”.

The Seimas is due to consider this week amendments initiated by the Ministry of the Interior (MoI) that would enshrine in Law the turning away of irregular migrants during state-level emergencies and states of emergency.

The Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence (NSD), which discussed the main draft on Monday, included in the draft as a compromise a provision that would allow the reversal of irregular migrants only in the border area – up to five kilometres inland from the border. The Human Rights Committee proposed it.

The Committee’s proposal stipulates that only those foreigners who are about to cross or have crossed the state border in places not designated for that purpose or who have violated the procedure for crossing the state border and who are still in the border area would be refused entry into the territory of Lithuania.

The draft amendments to the Law on State Border Protection prepared by the Ministry of the Interior stated that in the event of a state-level emergency, foreigners who have illegally entered the country shall not be admitted without specifying where in the country they are to be apprehended.

The Human Rights Committee also approved a proposal to include among the exceptions to the admission of foreigners not only persons fleeing military aggression but also other threats such as armed conflicts. In addition, the concept of persecution has been expanded to align it with the United Nations Refugee Convention.

Human rights defenders, who criticise the amendments legalising the turning away of migrants for contradicting international Law, welcomed the version approved by the Committee on Monday, although they argued that contradictions with international Law remain.

The amendments to the Law on the State Border and its Protection and the Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners seek to consolidate the border round-up of migrants, launched by the Minister of the Interior and subsequently included in a government decree.

Since 3 August 2021, when Lithuanian border guards acquired the right to turn back irregular migrants, 20,100 migrants have been refused entry from Belarus. Some foreigners have tried to enter Lithuania more than once.

In 2021, almost 4,200 migrants entered Lithuania illegally from Belarus, but most of them left the country when the movement restrictions ended.

The State Border Guard Service claims that Belarusian officials actively contribute to illegal migration to Lithuania and the EU.

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