VILNIUS – The Lithuanian government plans to drop a parliament-approved exemption on turning away migrants, fearing that it might act as an additional incentive for illegal migrants from Belarus, according to a bill submitted by the Interior Ministry on the implementation of the law that comes into force on Wednesday and allows turning away migrants trying to enter Lithuania illegally.
Under the law, the government can grant such authorization on the recommendation of the National Security Commission.
In a bid to balance national security interests and the rights of migrants, the law also stipulates that migrants are not subject to the turning away policy, "if it is established that the foreigner is fleeing armed conflicts as defined in the government's resolution, or is fleeing persecution as defined in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, or is seeking to enter the Republic of Lithuania's territory on humanitarian grounds".
However, the Interior Ministry states there are "no objective grounds" to establish a list of armed conflicts.
"It was stated at the meeting of the National Security Commission that, in the current context of threats, there are no objective preconditions for the establishment of a list of armed conflicts when the provision on the refusal to allow foreigners to enter the Republic of Lithuania does not apply to avoid creating an attraction factor for instrumentalized migration," reads the document the Interior Ministry submission to the government.
The Cabinet is yet to approve the procedure for turning away migrants by adopting a resolution.
"SMOKE AND MIRRORS"
The Lithuanian government itself submitted the bill legalizing the turning away of illegal migrants, but the version it proposed did not include an exemption for migrants fleeing armed conflicts.
This exception was later proposed by the parliamentary Committee on Human Rights during the bill reading stage, and it was later approved by the whole parliament.
Politicians argued at the time that this would address the criticism of NGOs and ensure a balance between national security interests and human rights.
Approached by BNS, Tomas Vytautas Raskevicius, who chairs the Seimas Committee on Human Rights, refused to comment on the Interior Ministry's registered draft.
Meanwhile, Monika Guliakaite-Daniseviciene, a lawyer and representative of the Lithuanian Human Rights Center, says the government's plans not to include a list of armed conflicts only proves that "the fears expressed by NGOs and experts have been confirmed as one of the so-called safeguards is already being abolished".
"It seems that the proposal to approve a list of countries from which migrants could enter the country was just smoke and mirrors to soften the criticism voiced by experts against the adoption of a controversial piece of legislation that clearly runs counter to international law," the human rights defender told BNS.
In her words, the individual assessment of migrants being turned away at the border is not properly carried out and those who have a legitimate ground for asylum are also refused entry.
Lithuania has been turning away illegal migrants trying to enter the country from Belarus for the past almost two years.
Lithuanian officials calls migrants inflows Minsk' hybrid attack, and Lithuanian border guards believe Belarusian officers are actively contributing to this.
In early April, Vilnius launched an international case against Belarus over illegal migration.