VILNIUS - The head of the Vilnius City Migration Service, Gintaras Baguzis, has defended controversial comments which he made on national TV. Baguzis allegedly labeled non-Europeans as terrorist threats to Lithuania. The official claimed the comments were taken out of context.
The official was speaking at a press conference on 60 Chinese immigrants illegally working on chicken farms near the town of Kaisiadorys.
"The problems started when Lithuania joined the EU. They cause social and criminal problems. Lithuania is not ready to solve these problems. A person from a third country [non-EU country] is a person of different culture and religion. He is automatically causing problems for the state," Baguzis said.
The migration head denied calling foreign workers a terrorist threat.
"It's not true. From my point of view, other statements in the media were taken from the context 's therefore, I would not like to comment on this report," Baguzis told The Baltic Times.
However, TV footage shows that during the press conference Baguzis spoke about workers from non-EU countries.
When asked if they are potential terrorists, he answered "Why not?"
Baguzis had recently returned from Amsterdam, where he had attended a conference.
His personal observation, he said, was that a large percentage of people walking around in the Dutch capital were foreign. He asked whether Lithuanians would like to see their streets full of foreigners.
"Some 50, 70 or 80 percent of people in the streets [in Amsterdam] are foreigners. The same situation is in all European capitals. Do we think that 80 percent of the Turks and Chinese among people in Vilnius streets would be good?" he asked rhetorically.
Lithuanian Interior Minister Regimantas Ciupaila responded by immediately ordering an investigation into the issue by Vizgirdas Telycenas, police commissioner general. Ciupaila described Baguzis statements as "intolerable".
The statements provoked outrage among human rights campaigners.
"An official can't even think in this way about people who arrived to Lithuania legally. He should think again if he is able to do his work," Edita Ziobiene, director of the Lithuanian Human Rights Center, told Lithuanian public radio.
Turkish Ambassador to Lithuania Oguz Ozge expressed concern about the remarks, saying that while he appreciates the need to protect against terrorism, he thinks Baguzis is generalizing too much.
"It's not appropriate to label all immigrants as terrorists," Ozge said.
"I respect the need for them to stop penetration of terrorists, but not all people are terrorists," he said.
A conference on racism was organized in parliament on the same day Baguzis made his statements.
"The level of intolerance is rising in Lithuania," Tadas Leonia's, researcher with the Ethnic Research Center at the Social Research Institute, said. According to Leonia's, Lithuania is the second most racially intolerant European country after Hungary.
There are currently 3937 work permits in Lithuania that are given to people from outside the European Union, allowing them to work for one or two years for a single employer in a single position in the company. If an employee changes employer or position, they must inform the Labor Exchange Office and wait for at least one month before making the move.
Baguzis explained after the conference that he thinks the problem is worsening and not enough measures are being taken.
Workers from non-EU countries are able to get a permanent work permit. However, during the trial period they are not allowed to change their employer or work without informing Lithuanian authorities.