Municipality residents frightened by migrants: some are afraid of visiting the store

The Lithuanian-Belarusian border. Photo Ruslanas Iržikevičius

Representatives from municipalities say that due to there are currently more questions than answers right now regarding the influx of migrants. Some municipalities concede that they will soon be no longer able to receive arrivals and hope for rapid and effective government solutions reported.

This was discussed on the Žinių Radijas show Dienos Klausimas together with Rukla Refugee Reception Centre director Beatričė Bernotienė, Alytus airport head Dalius Sinkevičius, migrant rights expert Giedrė Blažytė, Varėna region municipal administration director Alvydas Verbickas and the vice president of the Association of Lithuanian Municipalities Ausma Miškinienė on July 9.

Residents afraid of the foreigners

Rukla Refugee Reception Centre director Beatričė Bernotienė said that typically, the migrants neither understand where they have arrived nor how they reached Lithuania.

“These people are intimidated and afraid to say how they arrived and who told them or otherwise had them reach Lithuania. A large part of these migrants do not view Lithuania as their goal and will not linger, but hostility can also be seen from the residents, they are afraid of the unknown.

I can say that we have fairly calm migrants, they are settled in with their families. These are rather vulnerable individuals and they need help. They are not to blame for finding themselves here, just that someone ensured they would show up,” B Bernotienė said.

According to her, the people who would like to remain in Lithuania and request asylum are gladly learning Lithuanian, are intent on finding a job and are learning trades.

71 migrants were housed in the Alytus aeroclub’s territory last weekend. The club’s head Dalius Sinkevičius said that this was a surprise.

“That building was never adapted to living, it previously held the instructors’ offices and classes. There are neither showers nor conditions to live there at all,” he spoke.

The VP of the Association of Lithuanian Municipalities and Lazdijai region Mayor Ausma Miškinienė stated that the situation increases in complexity by the day. She points out that the main question in her region right now is the safety of residents.

“All municipal heads prioritise the safety of our regions and residents – we hear many of our residents talking that this security is not ensured; they feel unsafe.

Another question pertains to the compensation of costs – how who and when will cover the municipalities’ expenses because we are already experiencing them right now and will continue to in the future, but there are no clear financing mechanisms,” A. Miškinienė said.

According to her, natural questions emerge such as where the migrants will go in 10 days, who will transport them and whether only ten days will really be needed for settling in.

“There are more questions than answers and we hope that the cabinet and ministries will become engaged in resolving this problem,” A. Miškinienė said.

She also mentioned how the residents of Varėna region have seen individuals while picking mushrooms in the forests who they suspect of being illegal migrants.

“We would like to believe the leaders of VSAT that the absolute majority of those crossing the border are arrested, I believe these are individual cases,” the Lazdijai region mayor spoke.

According to her, all the municipalities have seriously and comprehensively examined their capacities and have already presented information on how each one could contribute and help.

“However, it should be noted that the municipalities essentially have no vacant buildings because they are used based on their purpose. Other premises, which are empty, are sold off in auctions or are abandoned and do not feature the most basic conditions,” A. Miškinienė spoke.

71 migrants were placed in Lazdijai based on July 7 data. The building used for this, according to her, is not adapted to living – it is a school. Which hosted children’s camps and pre-school education groups prior to the refugee influx.

“We found space for a very temporary solution. We hoped it would last until Monday – the ten-day deadline. Do understand that a school and classes are not residential premises and so, numerous challenges arise.

We will already transfer people to other premises, a former care home, but that also has only minimal conditions,” the Lazdijai region mayor spoke.

Meeting more than base needs

Migrant rights expert Giedrė Blažytė meanwhile mused that it is no crime to request asylum in Lithuania and so it is inaccurate to include the descriptor illegal alongside migrants.

“The person themselves cannot be illegal. […] Most likely, it is the people who cause such situations that could be called criminals. It’s a cynical exploitation of vulnerable people and so, this concept of illegal migrants should not be employed,” G. Blažytė explained.

According to her, Lithuania has ratified the Geneva Convention on Refugee Status and thus joined other countries in the commitment that it will comply with the convention’s directives and will integrate asylum seekers.

G. Blažytė explained that due to this, it is crucial to meet more than the migrants’ base needs.

“It is crucial that the person be provided information about where they have arrived and what rights they have. It must be provided to them in an understandable language. This is one of the rights to receive translation services, ensured healthcare.

Upon arriving, the person can also receive free of charge legal aid, make use of essential medical assistance,” the specialist listed.

Varėna region municipal administration director Alvydas Verbickas said on the show that the residents of Varėna are not worried, but the concern is justified.

“The decision was made unexpectedly, we did not have the opportunity to discuss it with the residents,” A. Verbickas spoke.

According to him, the municipality does not have a vast surplus of unused buildings and so, the region cannot receive in excess of 160 migrants.

“The main question the residents have pertains to their safety. Today, we have a larger number of Malian, Somalian citizens from Africa, who are not a frequent sight normally.

Thus, the most frequent questions revolve around whether the residents will be able to safely visit the store and such, we have answered these questions,” A. Verbickas said.

He also denied rumours that migrants are freely roaming the Varėna forests. According to the administration director, several Roma individuals were recently arrested, but they are unrelated to the migrant influx.

Another 110 migrants were detained in Lithuania on Monday (July 26) after illegally crossing into the country from Belarus, the State Border Guard Service said today. Most of them had Iraqi documents or said they were the country’s citizens. 

That brings to 2,839 the total number of irregular migrants detained after crossing into Lithuania this year so far, a 35-fold increase compared to the whole of 2020,

Of the people detained at the border with Belarus, 1,724 are or say they are, Iraqi citizens. The list also includes 191 Congolese citizens, 129 Cameroonians, 83 Russians, 81 Iranians, 78 Guineans, and 77 citizens of Afghanistan and Syria each.
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