Welcoming the participants, Mantas Adomėnas, deputy chair of the Committee on Human Rights, said that “every person who is subject to persecution has the right to seek and enjoy asylum. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international documents oblige us to provide refugees with decent living conditions and integration opportunities. The creation of a refugee-friendly society, however, remains a challenge in Lithuania”.
Compared to other countries, Lithuania receives very few applications for refugee status and such applications are not always upheld, thus the refugee status is granted to an even smaller number of persons. In 2013, 15 persons were recognised as refugees and 123 persons were granted subsidiary protection.
UNHCR in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, the Lithuanian Red Cross Society and Caritas in the Archdiocese of Vilnius conducted the Participatory Assessment of refugees’ integration opportunities and challenges in Lithuania during October and November 2013. The method employed for the assessment involved participation of refugees. The findings of the Participatory Assessment revealed the experience of asylum-seekers and aliens who had been granted asylum in Lithuania.
The Participatory Assessment was carried out by means of focus group discussions. A total of 68 refugees living in the Refugee Reception Centre in Rukla, as well as in Kaunas, Jonava and Vilnius took part in the discussions. Refugees of different ages, gender, nationalities, educational and professional backgrounds and having been granted different legal status and residence permits were invited to attend the Participatory Assessment, the Seimas’ press service said in a report.
“One of the main messages conveyed to us by refugees is that they want to rebuild their former lives in a new home country, Lithuania, and contribute to society and pay taxes,” said Karolina Lindholm Billing, Senior Regional Legal Officer from the UNHCR Regional Representation for Northern Europe. She said that most refugees had a higher education and work experience in their countries of origin and thus they did not want to depend on social support to survive. They were experiencing great difficulties in using their qualifications and skills in Lithuania, finding employment, securing housing or being regarded as equal members of society.
The report highlighted that refugees saw insufficient knowledge of the Lithuanian language as a major obstacle to integration. The Lithuanian language courses often were not efficient enough to master the language when there was no opportunity to practice it in everyday life. Employers frequently looked for fluent spoken and written Lithuanian, though a lower level of knowledge would be sufficient to carry out the work.