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Rights of Stigmatized Groups

I. Rights of Asylum Seekers and Refugees

All individuals who have been granted asylum in Lithuania are entitled to State support for integration. This support encompasses all measures to enable foreigners who have been granted asylum to support themselves and participate in public life in the same way that all other members of society can.[1] The integration of refugees is described as a process of adaptation of a person to a foreign environment, a process, which starts in the Refugees Reception Centre and continues in municipalities. During that time, persons are provided with educational, medical, social and other services in accordance with their needs, so that they may integrate into the local community and labour market.[2]

Individuals who have been granted asylum in Lithuania feel as though they are inferior, useless and unwanted outsiders – human beings whose human rights are limited, who have been imprisoned or bound both psychologically and geographically. It is clear that such experiences dampen any initiatives to build social capital and leave little chance to integrate successfully.

It is difficult for refugees to integrate successfully into Lithuanian society. Individuals who have been granted asylum in Lithuania feel as though they are inferior, useless and unwanted outsiders – human beings whose human rights are limited, who have been imprisoned or bound both psychologically and geographically.[3] It is clear that such experiences dampen any initiatives to build social capital and leave little chance to integrate successfully.[4]

The report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees identified the most common problems faced by people who have been granted asylum: their stay and ill-treatment in detention during the asylum procedure; the restrictions and limitations on everyday life due to the low financial allowances provided during their stay in the Refugees Reception Centre; difficulties in finding employment; difficulties in finding housing when the period of integration support in Refugees Reception Centre had ended.[5]

Foreigners living in the Refugees Reception Centre receive a monthly allowance for meals and minor expenses. Married people and children under the age of 18 receive an allowance of 51 Euro for food, while singles and unaccompanied minors are given 61.2 Euros each month for that purpose. The allowance for minor expenses is the same for all persons that have been granted asylum – 10.2 Euro.[6] The Ministry of Social Security and Labour is the institution responsible for the successful integration of refugees in Lithuania. The Ministry carries out the process of integration according to the Description of the Procedure of Rendering Lithuania State Support for the Integration of Foreigners Granted Asylum in the Republic of Lithuania, approved by the Minister of Social Security and Labour.[7]

The first challenge faced by many refugees is their reception upon arrival and the time spent in detention. The refugees described this experience as re-traumatizing and exacerbating their memories of persecution and war. Asylum seekers complain of how officers treat them both during arrest and later on, once they have been placed in the Foreigners Registration Centre. As a result, the time spent by refugees in the Refugees Reception Centre in Rukla is used not so much to prepare them for a new start in Lithuania, but to let them recover from the trauma sustained.[8]

One of the unlawfully detained refugees from Afghanistan imprisoned in Lukiškės, 15min.lt photo.

An incident involving two asylum seekers from Afghanistan being detained and imprisoned in 2013 provides an illustrative example of such practices. State Border Guard Service officers arrested these Afghan nationals – who at the time of detention claimed to be 14 and 17 years old – after they crossed the Lithuanian border.[9]

Even though both national and international law provides that asylum seekers are exempt from criminal liability for illegal entry and that unaccompanied minors must be afforded special protection, Lithuania chose not to follow these rules: in addition to asylum procedures, a pre-trial investigation was launched against both asylum seekers for illegal entry – both were detained and imprisoned in the Lukiškės remand prison, where they were kept together with adult men despite the fact that both claimed to be minors.  

Both asylum seekers spent more than three months in the Lukiškės remand prison before finally being convicted of illegal entry and fined.[10] However, following an examination of this criminal case at the request of the convicted, a court in September 2013 found that the two Afghan nationals were convicted unlawfully.[11] This in turn implies that the detention of these minors in the Lukiškės remand prison was also unlawful – as such, the ensuing harm resulted from unlawful actions taken by the state and ought to be compensated.

Having examined the case concerning the compensation for the wrongful arrest and conviction of the youths, the Vilnius District Court on 18 April 2014 acknowledged that the Lithuanian state had committed errors. As a result of these errors, the state will have to compensate the youths for the harm suffered, which the court of first instance placed at 21,900 LTL (around 6,300 Euro).[12] That being said, this compensation case is currently pending before the Supreme Court of Lithuania.

It should be noted that the negative attitudes of Lithuanian authorities and officials towards individuals coming to Lithuania can be gleaned not only from the personal accounts of refugees who had to deal with them, but also from the official statements of Lithuanian state institutions.

When publishing reports of its activities on its website, in 2013-2014 the State Border Guard Service employed rhetoric that was disrespectful and offensive to human dignity. Contrary to the accepted fundamental standards for respecting human dignity and human rights, the State Border Guard Service enjoys referring to undocumented immigrants as "illegals" in its press releases.[13]

The term "illegal" should not be used to describe individuals since it implies that the person him or herself is illegal – that is, outside the law. However, in democratic states even people breaking the law do not become outlaws – it does not matter if their transgression involves them parking illegally, stealing or crossing the border without authorization, as none of these actions merit revoking any person's inborn freedoms and rights; the latter may only be temporarily restricted for committing a crime, and only on legitimate grounds, when it is proportionate and necessary, without forgetting that people who make mistakes are still human beings. As such, the rhetoric used by the authorities, degrading as it is to human dignity, has no place in a democratic state that protects human rights and freedoms.

The second challenge unanimously conveyed by the refugees is the isolation experienced during their stay in the Refugees Reception Centre. The environment in Rukla not only does not facilitate rehabilitation from trauma, it also prevents refugees from taking full advantage of the available support for integration. This process is further complicated by poverty. As is known, poverty is the paradigm cause for and precondition to human rights abuses, which is why the very limited financial support available for refugees, insufficient to cover food, other basic necessities or travel expenses, further exacerbates the isolation of refugees from society and allows for their other rights to be abused.[14]

The laws amendments adopted at the end of 2014, providing for the possibility of skipping the integration stage at the Refugee Reception Centre and starting refugee integration straight in municipalities, are seen as a positive development.[15]

The term "illegal" should not be used to describe individuals since it implies that the person him or herself is illegal – that is, outside the law. However, in democratic states even people breaking the law do not become outlaws – it does not matter if their transgression involves them parking illegally, stealing or crossing the border without authorization, as none of these actions merit revoking any person's inborn freedoms and rights; the latter may only be temporarily restricted for committing a crime, and only on legitimate grounds, when it is proportionate and necessary, without forgetting that people who make mistakes are still human beings.

It is clear that practice does not meet the objective of state support for the integration period – that is, to give refugees the same opportunity to support themselves and participate in public life that is available to all the other members of society. This support should be sufficient for living adequately and ensure decent living conditions.

The initiative of the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) to abolish the Migration Department will have a particularly negative effect on Lithuania's asylum system and the proper guarantee of asylum seekers' rights. At the start of 2015 the MOI proposed transferring the competences of the Migration Department to the Police Department and the State Border Guard Service (SBGS). Following the reform, asylum procedures would be entrusted to the SBGS.[16]

This initiative to transfer the asylum application examination and decision-making processes to the State Border Guard Service in an effort to speed up asylum procedures raises serious concerns regarding the proper implementation of asylum seekers' rights in Lithuania.

The State Border Guard Service is responsible for protecting Lithuanian borders and strengthening national security; it is not the right institution for examining claims for asylum made by foreigners arriving to Lithuania (most often without proper documentation). Asylum applications should be examined by an independent central authority, not an institution responsible for the protection of national borders.

Furthermore, experiences from previous year demonstrate that state border protection authorities are on the whole reluctant to initiate asylum procedures – for example, the Foreigners Registration Centre does not always follow its duty to accept asylum applications of persons held at the Centre and forward them to the Migration Department. Unable to lodge asylum applications with the Foreigners Registration Centre, people instead send them directly to the Migration Department. This can be seen from official figures: in 2011, the Migration Department received 98 asylum applications directly from asylum seekers residing at the Foreigners Registration Centre, with the number being 210 in 2012 and 91 in 2013.[17] It is thus likely that transferring all asylum procedures – including making the decisions on whether to grant or refuse asylum – to the SBGS will leave refugee rights more open to abuse.

Findings and Recommendations 

  • One of the most significant factors in the successful integration of individuals who have been granted asylum in Lithuania is the appropriate reception of asylum seekers, which is why it is necessary to ensure they are treated with respect when detained, throughout the asylum process and during their stay at the Foreigners Registration Centre.
  • It is important not to "isolate" individuals, who are otherwise capable of integrating more rapidly, at the Refugees Reception Centre in Rukla during their integration period; instead, they must be allowed to integrate in municipalities in line with their individual needs.
  • The support given by the state for integration – the objective of which is, according to acts of law, to provide people that have been granted asylum with the same opportunity for supporting themselves and participating in public life that is available to all the other members of society – should be sufficient to ensure decent living conditions.
  • It is recommended that the State Border Guard Service refrains from using the term "illegal" to ensure basic respect for every person within the territory of Lithuania and for human rights.
  • The initiative to abolish the Migration Department, transferring its asylum application examination function to the State Border Guard Service, is seen as a negative development.

[1] Order No. A1-238 of the Minister of Social Security and Labour "On the Approval of the Description of the Procedure of Rendering Lithuania State Support for the Integration of Foreigners Granted Asylum in the Republic of Lithuania", dated 21 October 2004, point 2, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=348692&p_query=&p_tr2=

[2] Order No. A1-238 of the Minister of Social Security and Labour "On the Approval of the Description of the Procedure of Rendering Lithuania State Support for the Integration of Foreigners Granted Asylum in the Republic of Lithuania", dated 21 October 2004, point 2, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=348692&p_query=&p_tr2=

[3] Jolanta Aleknevičienė, "Life (or survival) in Lithuania: experiences of foreigners seeking asylum and those that have been granted asylum", 2013, p. 103, http://www.ces.lt/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/EtSt_Aleknevi%C4%8Dien%C4%97_2013_1.pdf

[4] Jolanta Aleknevičienė, "Life (or survival) in Lithuania: experiences of foreigners seeking asylum and those that have been granted asylum", 2013, p. 103, http://www.ces.lt/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/EtSt_Aleknevi%C4%8Dien%C4%97_2013_1.pdf

[5] UNHCR, "Integration of refugees in Lithuania. Participation and Empowerment. Understanding Integration in Lithuania through an age, gender and diversity based participatory approach", 2014, p. 34, http://www.unhcr-northerneurope.org/uploads/tx_news/UNHCR_Integration_of_refugees_in_Lithuania.pdf

[6] Ministry of Social Security and Labour, "Provision of support to foreigners that have been granted asylum", 6 January 2015, http://www.socmin.lt/lt/socialine-integracija/uzsienieciu-gavusiu-prieglobsti-511m.html

[7] Order No. A1-238 of the Minister of Social Security and Labour "On the Approval of the Description of the Procedure of Rendering Lithuania State Support for the Integration of Foreigners Granted Asylum in the Republic of Lithuania", dated 21 October 2004, p. 2, http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=348692&p_query=&p_tr2=

[8] UNHCR, "Integration of refugees in Lithuania. Participation and Empowerment. Understanding Integration in Lithuania through an age, gender and diversity based participatory approach", 2014, p. 35

[9] "Afghans in Lukiškės: hunger and forced pornography", lrytas.lt, 19 April 2014, http://tv.lrytas.lt/?id=13978330261397620827

[10] 19 July 2013 penal order of the Ignalina County District Court in criminal proceedings No. 1-85-664/2013; 1 August 2013 penal order of the Ignalina County District Court in criminal proceedings No. 1-97-242/2013

[11] 18 September 2013 decision of the Ignalina County District Court in criminal proceedings No.1-108-242/2013; 19 September 2013 decision of the Ignalina County District Court in criminal proceedings

[12] 18 April 2014 decision of the Vilnius City District Court in civil proceedings No. 2-2376-465/2014

[13] "Border guards used electro-shock to subdue a Georgian illegal throwing a fit", 18 February 2013, http://www.pasienis.lt/lit/Besiskeryciojusi-gruzina-nelegala-pasienieciai-ramino-elektros-soku-foto/1; "Border guards arrested a group of 22 illegals in Ignalina county", 11 June 2013, http://www.pasienis.lt/lit/Ignalinos-rajone-pasienieciai-sulaike-22-nelegalu-grupe/1; "A large force of border guards hunted for a group of illegals that had taken root in Ignalina county", 12 August 2013, http://www.pasienis.lt/lit/Gausios-pasienieciu-pajegos-gaude-Ignalinos-rajone-pasklidusia-nelegalu-grupe/1; "Border guards arrested 15 illegals from Vietnam and Afghanistan in Ignalina county", 27 August 2013, http://www.pasienis.lt/lit/Ignalinos-rajone-pasienieciai-sulaike-15-nelegalu-is-Vietnamo-ir-Afganistano/1; "Four illegals, thought to be Indian nationals, arrested at the border with Belarus", 7 October 2013, http://www.pasienis.lt/lit/Pasienyje-su-Baltarusija-sulaikyti-keturi-itariama-nelegalai-is-Indijos-foto/1; "Georgian illegals resisting border guards during an inspection were subdued by force", 18 October 2013, http://www.pasienis.lt/lit/Patikrinimo-metu-pasienieciams-priesinesi-gruzinai-nelegalai-buvo-sutramdyti-jega-foto/1; "SBGS officers arrested five illegals from India in Švenčionys county", 13 December 2013, http://www.pasienis.lt/lit/Svencioniu-rajone-VSAT-pareigunai-sulaike-penkis-nelegalus-is-Indijos-foto/2; "A Georgian man coming from Belarus was tracked down by Samo, the bane of all illegals", 16 December 2014, http://www.pasienis.lt/lit/Is-Baltarusijos-atejusi-gruzina-suseke-nelegalu-siaubas-Samo/1

[14] UNHCR, "Integration of refugees in Lithuania. Participation and Empowerment. Understanding Integration in Lithuania through an age, gender and diversity based participatory approach", 2014, p. 35

[15] Order No. A1-609 of the Minister of Social Security and Labour "On Amending Order No.A1-238, dated 21 October 2004, "On the Approval of the Description of the Procedure of Rendering Lithuania State Support for the Integration of Foreigners Granted Asylum in the Republic of Lithuania"', dated 5 December 2014, point 2(11), http://www3.lrs.lt/pls/inter3/dokpaieska.showdoc_l?p_id=490594&p_tr2=2

[16] "Government approves of the abolition of the Migration Department", 15min.lt¸ 25 March 2015, http://www.15min.lt/naujiena/aktualu/lietuva/vyriausybe-pritare-migracijos-departamento-naikinimui-56-492924

[17] Migration Department, On the provision of information, 19 November 2013, No. (15/6-1) 10K-41385


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