Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
Last week, in a surprising move to many, the Lithuanian Interior minister, Agnė Bilotaitė, announced while visiting the Lithuanian-Polish border that all unprocessed asylum requests – over 300 of them – should be processed next week, i.e. during November 29 – December 3.
However, speaking to BNN on Thursday, December 2, the ministry’s Migration department did not comment the minister’s pledge, which just, seemingly, will remain unfulfilled.
Moreover, it was uncooperative in explaining what makes the ministry to expedite the process.
«We will announce all relevant information next Monday. Expedited processing of asylum requests, known as border procedure in some other EU member states, foresees processing asylum requests in shorter terms than applying common procedures,» says a written reply of Loreta Tumalavičienė, chief specialist of the Migration department.
BNN’s sources in Seimas, the country’s parliament, ponder that Lithuania wants thus to «open a new page» from the very beginning of 2022 – without the burden of this kind of caseload – and, likely, is compelled by the European Union not to procrastinate processing asylum requests.
Lithuania has been criticised for ostensible human rights violations in handling the unprecedented surge in undocumented migrants on the country’s 680- kilometre border with Belarus.
According to Bilotaitė, if migrants are not granted asylum, measures will be taken to send them back to the countries of origin.
«Our institutions are doing and will do everything for those people to be returned to their countries of origin,» Bilotaitė was quoted.
Tumalavičienė, of the Migration department, told BNN that, so far, 3 644 asylum requests have been received. Of the number, 3162 were irregular migrants who got into the country having illegally crossed the Belarusian-Lithuanian border.
«As of December 1, asylum has been granted to 332 foreign nationals, including 15 who crossed the mentioned border illegally. At present, we are processing over 300 asylum requests,» she said.
In her words, expedited asylum requests processing procedures allow to swifter identify persons, who truly need asylum and Lithuanian state’s support.
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When it comes to nationalities of asylum seekers, the top three categories, so far, are Iraqis, Afghans and Belarusians and the sequence is unlikely to change.
The Migration department officer says that, among those who were granted asylum, are Syrians, Yemenis, Iraqis and Eritreans.
Weighing in on the European Commission’s proposal to allow EU member states bordering Belarus, specifically, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, to temporarily suspend some rules applied to asylum seekers, Bilotaitė says that it shows that Lithuania’s efforts toward changing the bloc’s migration policy are «starting to bear fruit».
«The EC has listened to our arguments and has proposed more flexible asylum procedures,» the minister said in a comment.
She calls the decision «really important» for EU member states sharing a border with Belarus and facing an unprecedented influx of migrants.
The Lithuanian Interior ministry submitted its proposals to the European Commission back in September and initiated a joint letter to the EU’s executive body that was supported by 12 EU interior ministers in October.
Thus, Brussels is set to allow quicker deportations and holding migrants in detention for up to 16 weeks, which some human rights activists warn, can amount to «de facto detention».
The suspension of certain asylum protections will be allowed for six months, unless extended or cut short.
Some say the proposals are controversial within the Commission itself, because, in reality, they would penalise the migrants rather than the Belarusian regime responsible for the crisis.
More than 4,200 irregular migrants have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally so far this year, and over 7,600 more have been turned away by border guards.
Lithuania and other Western countries accuse the Minsk regime of orchestrating the unprecedented migration influx, calling it «hybrid aggression».
The Lithuanian Cabinet proposed on Wednesday, December 1, to extend the existing state of emergency along the border with Belarus for another month due to the migrant crisis.
The government also approved the Interior ministry’s proposal to place an area along the border with Poland under the special legal regime, too,
The Cabinet is likely to formally submit the proposal to Seimas, the country’s parliament, for approval on Friday, December 3.
Under the proposal, the special regime in the territory stretching 19 km from the Belarusian border, as well as at migrant camps, would be in force until the midnight on January 9, 2022.
The state of emergency was declared on November 10 amid mounting tensions on the border with Belarus.
The state of emergency restricts the right of migrants accommodated in Lithuania to communicate in writing or by telephone, except to contact the country’s authorities.
Among other things, reinforced controls are currently in place on the Lithuanian side of the border. The movement of vehicles in borderland without the permission of the border guards is restricted. Entry will be banned for civilians, except for local residents as well as those who have real estate in the area.
Meanwhile, local courts complain of huge workload related to asylum requests.
Due to the reason, a court in Vilnius has this week handed over part of the appeals filed by asylum seekers to other administrative courts in the country.
Up until now, Vilnius Regional Administrative Court has received around 500 appeals where asylum seekers are appealing the Migration department’s decision not to grant them asylum in Lithuania.
The Regional Administrative Court also has branches in Kaunas, Klaipėda, Šiauliai and Panevėžys.
BNN ANALYSES | Over 300 asylum requests being processed expeditiously in Lithuania
Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN