Lithuania sets up illegal immigration defense

  • 2000-06-01
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis
VILNIUS - Recently, Lithuania has been paying special attention to the frontier with Belarus as a would-be exterior border of the European Union. Statistics show that Lithuania is dealing successfully in its campaign to curtail illegal immigration from the east.

On May 19, Klaus Severin, the chief of German federal border control service, visited Vilnius and said that the eastern borders of the Baltic states are crucial for the future expanded EU. He emphasized that the Baltics, while so far are just transit territories for illegal migrants, could soon become a primary destination for eastern immigrants and face the same hardships faced by the current EU nations. Severin offered free training programs for Lithuanian border officials.

Lithuania is in the process of building new checkpoints, border police stations, and watch towers at the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, and at the same time is loosening control at its borders with Poland and Latvia. According to Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, Lithuanian ? Polish and Lithuanian-Latvian borders would become soon the interior lines of the EU and will have just symbolic meanings.

Traditionally, refugees from Asia and Africa did not take pains to reach the Belarusian-Lithuanian border. However, tightening the Lithuanian side of this border started to yield some results in the fight against illegal migration, said Rokas Pukinskas, spokesman for the Lithuanian Border Police Department.

"Most illegal immigrants detained in Lithuania come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. We help to go homes for those who don't ask for political asylum or are refused from it. We sent 2,008 of them back in 1997-1999," Pukinskas said.

He presented figures that show a drop in the numbers of illegal immigrants detained on Lithuanian side of the border with Belarus. The figures for apprehended illegal migrants are as follows: in year 1995, 1,354 refugees were detained; 1996 - 1,551; 1997 - 1,382; 1998 - 495; 1999 - just 261. This year only 59 illegal migrants have been held up in Lithuania.

Refugees complaining about political or religious persecutions in their home countries have the right to apply for asylum. At the moment, 127 refugees asking for asylum in Lithuania are staying in the refugee center in the town of Rukla, said Liucija Voisnis, an official from the Refugee Affairs in the Department of the Interior Ministry. Rukla became a temporary home for refugees from Asia, Africa, Russia, Georgia and other places.

From 1997 to May, 2000, already 59 refugees were granted political asylum in Lithuania. They are from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somali, Nigeria, Belarus, Voisnis said.

Figures show that the refugee influx to Lithuania is not a big issue at the moment. However, some intellectuals are aware that in the not-so-distant future Lithuania, with its growing economy, will be a desirable destination for many from the poor countries and they will find ways to get into the country, said Arturas Dubonis, doctor of historian science.

"Last week I spoke with professor Edvardas Gudavicius, the biggest authority of Lithuania's history. He told me, 'After some centuries many Lithuanians will have dark skin and hair. And I don't see a problem in it. They will speak Lithuanian anyway.' And I agree with Gudavicius," Dubonis said.