Lithuania’s govt broadens criteria allowing to declare extreme situation over migrants

  • 2023-04-26
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – Lithuania’s government on Wednesday complemented the criteria allowing to declare the extreme situation over the influx of irregular migrants who could then be turned away at the border, based on the legislative amendments recently adopted by the Seimas.

At present, the extreme situation can be declared if thirty or more people attempt to cross into the country illegally in the area of any specific frontier district per day.

On Wednesday, the government, acting on a proposal from the Interior Ministry, set out additional criteria for declaring the extreme situation, which were linked to the number of migrants accommodated in the country, the number of asylum applications filed to respective authorities, and other indicators.

Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite told her Cabinet colleagues that the new criteria would allow a more adequate assessment of the nature of irregular migration and would enable to distinguish between instrumentalized and natural migration.

The Interior Ministry seeks to establish more flexible criteria in response to legislative amendments adopted by the parliament on Tuesday and enshrining in law the existing policy of turning away irregular migrants at the border under a state-level extreme situation regime or a state of emergency.

The amendments will come into force if signed by President Gitanas Nauseda. However, human rights advocates intend to ask the president to veto the bill, which, according to them, would legalize migrant pushbacks that are contrary to international law.

One of the new criteria allowing to declare the extreme situation would concern hard data showing that irregular crossing of Lithuania’s border is being orchestrated, encouraged or facilitated with the involvement of neighboring countries and their authorities.

Also, the extreme situation could be declared if relevant authorities are not able to accept asylum applications immediately due to a large influx of foreigners where the number of asylum seekers exceeds 100 people within a period of three days.

Other criteria would be related inter alia to cases where the number of foreigners accommodated in the foreigners’ registration center exceeds 360 people and the number of foreign nationals accommodated in the Refugee Reception Center exceeds 500.

According to the amendments adopted by the Seimas on Tuesday, the government, acting on a proposal from the National Security Commission, may adopt a decision refusing entry to Lithuania during a state-level extreme situation, introduced due to an influx of foreigners, to those foreign nationals who intend to cross or have crossed the state border at places that are not designated for that purpose or at places designated for that purpose but having violated the procedure for crossing the state border.

This provision will be applied individually to each foreigner.

The Interior Ministry, the initiator of the bill, says that the amendments make a clear distinction between natural migration and the instrumentalized migration facilitated by the Belarusian regime and that the legislation is necessary to safeguard Lithuania's national security interests.

The ministry also says that the law puts in place safeguards for vulnerable persons.

Nonetheless, the amendments have drawn criticism from human rights organizations, which say that the legislation would legitimize expulsions, a practice that violates international law.  

Amnesty International said last week that the law would "green-light torture".

Lithuania started turning away migrants at the border with Belarus on the basis of the interior minister's order issued in August 2021. Later, the practice was formalized by a respective government resolution.