LITHUANIA: Lithuania’s parliament legalizes pushback of migrants

Extract from article by Ana P. Santos, published on InfoMigrants on 26/04/2023 – accessible here.

Lithuania has passed legislation to make it legal to deny entry to asylum seekers at the border. Rights groups and NGOs said it is tantamount to sanctioning widespread violence against refugees and migrants.

Lithuania’s parliament passed legislation on April 25 allowing border guards to turn back migrants who cross into the country irregularly, a move that was heavily criticized by Lithuanian NGOs and rights organizations. 

The amendment passed with 69 votes to 7 against the measure and 24 abstentions. Parliament is scheduled to give final formal approval on Tuesday (2 May).

“Today is a dark day for justice as Lithuania’s Parliament has voted to enshrine in law illegal and abusive practices. By codifying what is illegal and forcibly returning refugees and migrants to places where they face a risk of torture and other ill-treatment, the government is trampling on their rights and on Lithuania’s own international obligations,” Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks said in a statement. 

International laws and treaties such as the European Convention of Human Rights Protocol and the 1951 Refugee Convention prohibit collective expulsions and the return of anyone to a country where they could face serious human rights violations. 

Over 300 organizations and individuals warned that the law’s provision of civilian border guards which it called “border hunters” was dangerously similar to the Hungarian model. 

Hungary ranks as the top country to use what rights groups have described as “systematic violence” against migrants. Amnesty International reported more than 157,000 pushbacks in Hungary by the end of December 2022. 

Last month, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, published a report revealing the widespread use of violence, intimidation, prolonged detention, and practices that amount to torture by authorities in countries across Europe carrying out pushback operations.