Lithuania's consulting EU on migrant turn-away law – minister

  • 2022-08-02
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS - Lithuania is consulting with EU institutions on adopting a law on turning irregular migrant away, Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite says.

"We are consulting with the European Commission, … we are consulting on some changes and other things, and the first thing we are seeking is to have the changes in European law, in the migration policy, that Lithuania is proposing," Bilotaite told a press conference on Tuesday.

But, she stressed the need adopt a law on turning irregular migrants away as there's no time to wait for the whole EU to change its migration policy the way Lithuania wants.

"The EU migration policy itself, which does exist, is one thing, but after the hybrid attack started, everybody agrees that it doesn’t reflect today's situation and that it has serious loopholes, so we are initiating changes and we will certainly not back down and we will go down that road to make sure that those changes in EU law are made," the interior minister said.

In her words, EU processes are slow, therefore, Lithuania needs to introduce a law providing for a possibility to turn irregular migrants back in the event of an extreme situation, emergency situation or war.

"It is very hard to say (when EU law could change) since all processes within the EU move very slowly. Those processes cannot happen here and now, so we have to initiate changes in our country because we have to defend ourselves today, we cannot wait for a year or two, we need solutions today, we needed them yesterday," Bilotaite said.

Last Friday, the Interior Ministry confirmed it was drafting a bill to legalize the turning-back of irregular migrants at the border. Bilotaite says the legislation would allow border guards to use such measures during an extreme and emergency situation and during a state of war.

Lithuania introduced the measures last year in response to an influx of migrants trying to cross into its territory from Belarus, accusing the Minsk regime of having orchestrated the influx.

In total, more than 11,000 irregular migrants have been refused entry to Lithuanian from Belarus since August 3, 2021, when the interior minister ordered border guards to turn irregular migrants back.

Some critics say such actions can be considered pusbacks that violate international law. Border guards, however, say they are not pushing migrants back but prevent them from entering Lithuania's territory.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex's Fundamental Rights Office has criticized Lithuania for the collective entry ban for migrants.

The FOR says this practice runs counter to international law and the European Convention on Human Rights, adding that the possibility to apply for asylum at an official border checkpoint does not work in practice.