Municipalities, which have had to temporarily shelter migrants are counting the second month of being neighbours now. It wasn’t just locals who got accustomed to the new arrivals over this period – the municipalities’ representatives also got to know the migrants better, Indrė Naureckaitė wrote in lrytas.lt
Officials and officers who interact with the migrants every day say that they are beginning to see through the tales they are told, which sound different each time. Other problems also have to be solved – constant ambulance calls, group leaders inciting riots.
The municipalities’ representatives explain how the migrants’ everyday lives look like from up close, what challenges emerge, what the infamous migrant riot in Verebiejai looked like and what lies they get to hear from the foreigners.
The Alytus city aerodrome’s administrative building is temporarily the home of 71 migrants from Africa. One of them is a photographer from Cameroon, who says he is satisfied with the living conditions and said he would like to remain to live in Lithuania.
“I would like to stay here because the Lithuanian people are good. The officers are good, the Red Cross volunteers are good. The situation in the country is good, it’s at peace,” he said.
Migrants begin to open up
Alytus city Mayor Nerijus Cesiulis had a different perspective on the migrants’ goals.
“When asked how many of them wish to return home, only one hand was raised. They all say they didn’t come to us, but to Western Europe. We initially heard tales and stories of fleeing war, unrest, persecution, but we understand just fine that it would be a little odd to persecute an 18-year-old for their political views – they have yet to grasp what they are doing, what they represent.
They now say that they came for a better life, that they paid money. They were promised that they would come to Lithuania through Belarus and it would be easy to reach Western Europe through Lithuania. And from there – wherever they wish.
They all arrived with money, definitely not as impoverished as they present themselves – they are from normal families,” the mayor said.
According to the city mayor, the foreigners who settled in the municipal premises were fairly calm. There have been no incidents and the migrants themselves live in an orderly manner, get along well.
“They ask for books, board games. Of course, we hear that it’s a little cool for them here. They ask for information about when they will be released, how long they will be here, when they will be questioned and when they can head off in one or another direction,” the mayor said.
According to N. Cesiulis, the migrants most lack clarity, something that the municipalities themselves are in need of, particularly due to the rapidly nearing cold season.
“We are already saying that we must prepare, but the government continues to stall. We can adapt the premises for winter as well, but it must be done now, not in October. If the temperature falls below zero in the premises at night and the person hasn’t eaten, we know what will happen – they will climb over the wall, flee at night, there will be unrest, clashes. Do we need that?” the city leader asked rhetorically.
Danielius, who works security at the aerodrome, has spoken to the migrants in Russian. According to him, many of them introduce themselves as students from Belarus. Only adult foreigners have been settled in Alytus, but they have various stories to tell.
“I asked one of them how old he was. The answer – twelve. Then I ask him, how long ago he was twelve. He smiles and says it’s a ‘little secret’,” Danielius recalled.
He explains that the security guards get along with the migrants – when the latter group asks, the guards buy them cigarettes, juice. “They are friendly and so, we are also well-meaning. When they ask, we head out and buy cigarettes or juice for their money,” he said.
Problems with rioters
Meanwhile, the officers overseeing migrants temporarily settled in a former school in Verebiejai, Alytus have not avoided unrest. Dalia Paulauskaitė, advisor to the Alytus region mayor, recalls how 16 leaders incited a riot.
“They climbed on top of the second-floor terrace, shouted loudly, banged on the roof. They said they won’t eat, didn’t let the women and children eat.
We were most angered when we saw that they are simply kicking in around the territory buns and entire bread loaves that were brought in. This was too much. In the evening, the special services took those 16 people away. The remaining migrants were glad to see them go,” the mayor’s advisor said.
D. Paulauskaitė explains that the former school premises house 167 foreigners from a variety of countries: Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Iran and Iraq, as well as Chechens. There are also families with children. According to her, with such a number of people, castes and leaders have emerged.
She recalls a case where government officials began to explain to the migrants that they could return to their country of origin voluntarily right now, they would be given a ticket, as compared to having to return anyway for their own money later on. When four migrants took interest and began to discuss a potential return, another foreigner came up and promptly angrily dissuaded them from the idea.
Other aspects of the migrants’ lives might also depend on disparate groups. “They have leaders making arrangements based on where they are from – some are allowed to speak, others – aren’t. The migrants clean up themselves in some cases, but it varies in others,” she noted.
No lack of lies
A woman from Nigeria, who was settled in Verebiejai, also did not complain about her living conditions, only mentioning that it’s cold. She said she was fleeing dangerous living conditions and that she wanted to live in Lithuania.
That said, D. Paulauskaitė doesn’t hide that the municipality’s representatives caught her lying a few times.
“We caught her making up such great stories that we even laughed, saying that she’s going at it like a real agent. She starts by explaining how bad things were. When we ask where she put her documents, she doesn’t know. She once told us on a story about arriving in Belarus, then she turns around, seemingly forgetting it, and is now telling a different story. Everyone says the same – it’s bad in their families, someone killed someone. Who killed who? The topic immediately changes then,” the mayor’s advisor shared her experiences.
“Another man says that he wants to remain in Lithuania, that he likes it here. I ask him what he would like to do and he answers ‘I’m a student, I wish to study.’ I ask him if he has money for it – he doesn’t. Then I ask if he has any work experience – turns out he doesn’t. As we continue to talk, he accidentally mentions he will head to Germany. ‘When I am released, I will go to Germany nevertheless,’” D. Paulauskaitė recounts.
According to her, local medics experience lying and manipulation particularly keenly, with migrants presenting various stories to them. Just in July, the migrants in Verebiejai called the ambulance 200 times.
“The first time we drove in, everyone shouted ‘We need a doctor!’ I ask what the problem is. Mosquito bites. […] We later decided that it cannot continue like this. It is necessary for the call to be justified. The municipality established procedures where the mobile brigade was allocated premises, a time was set. If there is an emergency case, the chief security guard calls a doctor and medical aid is always provided,” she said.
D. Paulauskaitė notes that the migrants are provided all the essentials: food, water, hot showers, more toilets are being brought in, the Red Cross has supplied clothing, the territory was expanded so children could play with a ball, mobile stores arrive. The only complaint migrants have is that it’s cold.
“My granddaughter said last weekend that she doesn’t understand why people are mad at the migrants – they just want to live better. I said that yes, I too would like to live better, but I’m not climbing over the fence into my neighbour’s nicer house, I don’t settle in his room and don’t demand food, a football field and new clothing,” the municipality’s representative summarised.
In mid-July, six Iraqis had fled the premises of a former orphanage in Kapčiamiestis, Lazdijai region where they were temporarily settled. They were soon found and the situation has lately been calm here. Kapčiamiestis’ prefect Virginijus Golikas says that there are 81 migrants living there, 22 of them being children.
“There are peaceful families living here, they appear to have become friends. So far, they aren’t looking to escape, instead of awaiting responses on when they will be moved out, whether they will return, whether they will travel onward into Europe,” V. Golikas said.
According to him, the migrants are only complaining that it’s getting cold because the premises are not adapted for the cold season. V. Golikas explains that migrants speak to the municipality’s officials and officers quite willingly. Some say they are fleeing war, others – violence, others yet – poor living conditions. The prefect also divides the migrants into three groups based on their goals.
“I have formed the opinion that there are three groups of people: some would like to remain in Lithuania, others would go onward to France, Germany. Others yet ask what conditions there would be if they were to return home,” he noted.
In terms of the local residents’ moods, V. Golikas didn’t hide that there was significant concern initially.
“They were concerned in the beginning, so was I. In the end, they are foreigners, it was unclear as to how they would be guarded. However, they have been here since July 2 – they haven’t made any noise, they have been peaceful, not trying to break out. We have talked to our neighbours, they have had no issues so far,” the prefect of Kapčiamiestis said.
Unwilling to share the burden
Alytus city Mayor N. Cesiulis has recently publicly declared that Alytus will not accept more migrants. The municipal head emphasises that Alytus is not a municipality on the state border and the remaining 52 municipalities could also contribute to the common good.
“Why should Alytus carry the burden for all of Lithuania? When it was needed, all the municipalities said they don’t have premises. Don’t make me laugh – I can have a look at the property owned and managed by municipalities, I would definitely find empty, abandoned premises where migrants could be settled. However, no one wants to, everyone is pushing them [the migrants] away, inciting the locals. Yes, it’s popular to say as a city leader that “we won’t take them in.”
We made an unpopular decision in the understanding that the country needs help – where would you put them? The other municipalities should understand this too. Will the municipalities of Lazdijai and Ignalina have to bear the entire load?” the mayor asked rhetorically.
“We are becoming a city, which supports the entire region because we have a COVD hospital, but then we must also mind all the migrants. Because they are fainting, faking, falling, tripping. It’s fun for them – some variety after all: the doctor shows up, inspects them, entertainment for that half of the day. But what of our residents giving birth, unable to leave home, facing strokes, heart attacks? Why should a single city take responsibility for all of Lithuania? Because the other mayors are unwilling? When European support is shared out, everyone runs to be first, but when the state needs help, we all turn away,” N. Cesiulis observed.