VILNIUS – Amnesty International's report on the treatment of irregular migrants by Lithuania's authorities fails to take into account the context of the situation, Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite said on Monday.
In its report published on Monday, the human rights organization criticized Lithuanian officials for their handling of the migration crisis that erupted last year and called for an immediate halt to pushbacks and release of all asylum-seekers and irregular migrants "subjected to arbitrary
"The context of the situation has not been taken into account, because these are not just migration processes and these are not war refugees fleeing from war," Bilotaite told reporters. "Completely different mechanisms are coming into play; this is a hybrid attack orchestrated by the Belarusian regime."
In response to Amnesty International's criticism that migrants were held in foreigners' registration centers in appalling conditions, the minister said that faced with the sudden influx of migrants, Lithuania had no suitable infrastructure to accommodate them.
"A huge number of people crossed into Lithuania at the same time with the help of the Belarusian regime," she said. "There was no available infrastructure. All of it had to be created. It was not easy to find places (to house migrants) and (the authorities met with) resistance in selecting certain places."
Bilotaite also said that Lithuania's previous system of processing asylum applications "could easily be abused" as it had "certain loopholes".
"We had to make it clear that we needed changes so that the processes used by the Belarusian regime were not used against us," she said.
Amnesty International says, however, that Lithuania's authorities failed to give irregular migrants access to a fair and effective asylum procedure and describes the legal aid system as "a sham".
Bilotaite rejected the organization's criticism that migrant pushbacks are illegal under international and EU law.
"The procedures are working and people are using the procedures, and they are certainly in line with EU requirements," she said.
The report was based on data obtained during a visit by Amnesty International's representatives to Lithuania between November 2021 and May 2022.
They interviewed 47 migrants and visited the Foreigners Registration Centers in Medininkai and Kybartai.
Almost 4,200 irregular migrants, mostly from the Middle East and Africa, crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally last year. Vilnius calls the unprecedented influx of migrants from Belarus a "hybrid attack" by the Minsk regime.
Lithuanian border guards have sent more than 10,000 people back to Belarus since last August, when they were given the right to deny entry to irregular migrants.