VILNIUS – The bill on the legalization of the existing policy of turning away migrants at the border, which is now under discussion in the Lithuanian Seimas, is an attempt to find a balance between national security interests and human rights, Speaker of the Seimas Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen says.
"The bill includes a number of safeguards, certainly taking into account some of the comments made. We need to balance all the time between national security, between the understanding that the Lukashenko regime is using people to try to cause tensions and danger, and, of course, respecting human rights," the Seimas speaker told reporters on Tuesday.
She confirmed that she would back the bill during its hearing, adding, however, it might still be amended.
"These are difficult decisions, but I would say we are paying a lot of attention to take the comments into account, and the bill may still change," Cmilyte-Nielsen said.
Earlier in the day, NGOs from around the world issued a statement urging the Lithuanian parliament not to adopt a law legalizing the turning away of irregular migrants. Meanwhile, Amnesty International said on Monday such a law would "give green-light torture".
Laurynas Kasciunas, chairman of the parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defense, says failure to adopt the proposed law on turning away irregular migrants would be tantamount to "opening up a path of illegal migration".
"NGOs' weak point in all discussions is that they do not offer any alternative, they offer Europe and Lithuania without borders, I will never agree with such a position because it poses a threat to Lithuania's national security," Kasciunas told BNS on Tuesday.
He called the bill version put before the Seimas a compromise, saying that it provides safeguards for vulnerable people.
This week, Lithuanian lawmakers are due to consider the Interior Ministry's initiated amendments that would enshrine in law the existing policy of turning away irregular migrants during state-level extreme and emergency situations.
The Seimas Committee on National Security and Defense, the key committee that discussed the main bill, on Monday added a compromise provision that would allow turning away irregular migrants only in the border area of up to five kilometers inland from the border. The Interior Ministry's initial amendments to the Law on the State Border and Protection Thereof stated that foreigners who have illegally entered the country during a state-level extreme situation would not be allowed to enter, without specifying where in the country they would be detained.
Also, under the Human Rights Committee's proposal, another provision was also approved, stating that the exceptions to the admission of foreigners would include not only people fleeing military aggression, but also those fleeing other threats, such as armed conflicts. Moreover, the concept of persecution has been expanded to bring it in line with the UN Refugee Convention.
A total of 20,100 migrants have been refused entry to Lithuania from Belarus since August 3, 2021 when Lithuanian border guards were granted the right to turn away irregular migrants.
Almost 4,200 migrants entered Lithuania illegally from Belarus in 2021 but most of them have left the country when restrictions on their movement were lifted.
The State Border Guard Service claims Belarusian officials are actively contributing to illegal migration to Lithuania and the EU.