Lithuanian minister says EU's Johansson didn't call for changes to migrant pushback laws

  • 2021-11-11
  • LETA/BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite says that European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson did not call for changes to Lithuania's current legislation allowing border guards to turn away migrants during their conversation on Thursday. 

"There was even no discussion that something should be relaxed," Bilotaite told reporters. "Apparently there are some questions, but we do not have any official or unofficial calls to change our legislation." 

Johansson "expressed her full support for Lithuania," the minister said, adding that "the commissioner is on our side, on Lithuania's side".

"As the issue of legal regulation was raised, it was noted that it was a general statement and that there is a need for discussion, for dialogue," she added.

The Brussels-based news website EUobserver has reported that the European Commission will likely demand that Poland, Latvia and Lithuania amend their laws that allow pushing migrants back into Belarus.

"We are still in assessment, but I think that we will ask for amendments in some of the legislations," it quoted Johansson as saying.

The commissioner did not say when the Commission might demand the respective changes or on which specific points.

However, her comments came amid broader concerns over the legality of turning migrants and prospective asylum seekers back to Belarus.

In early August, Lithuanian border guards started redirecting migrants caught attempting to cross the border illegally to official border crossing points. Migrants can also apply for asylum at Vilnius' embassy in Minsk. A total of 6,320 people have since not been allowed to enter Lithuania from Belarus. 

Some critics say that these actions can be considered as pushbacks, which violate the European Convention on Human Rights.

Officials say that they are not allowing migrants to enter Lithuanian territory, rather than pushing them back.

"Our duty [...] is to defend the EU's external border, which is what we are doing, and we are also defending our national security," Bilotaite said.

Lithuania is prepared for all possible scenarios, according to the minister

Over 4,200 irregular migrants, mostly Iraqi citizens, have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally so far this year.

Lithuania and other Western countries accuse the Minsk regime of orchestrating the unprecedented migration influx, calling it "hybrid aggression".