Lithuania pushes back Afghan migrants despite European Court stand

Migrants in the tent camp close to the Lithuania - Belarus border near Medininkai, Lithuania, 24 August 2021. [EPA-EFE/VALDA KALNINA]

Lithuania on Thursday (9 September) pushed five Afghan migrants back to Belarus shortly after they had crossed the border despite the European Court of Human Rights earlier saying they should be allowed to stay.

The migrants had tried to enter Lithuania unsuccessfully at least 10 times since 29 August, their lawyer said. Their case had been brought to the European Court.

The Lithuanian border guard said the five had been detained and sent back into Belarus on Thursday before noon having just crossed over the border.

“We intend to not allow the illegal migrants into Lithuanian territory,” the Guard said in a statement.

More than 4,100 migrants from the Middle East and South Asia have entered Lithuania this year and the European Union has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of sending them over its borders with EU nations in retaliation for sanctions imposed by the bloc on the Minsk government.

Lithuania says Belarus is helping Middle Eastern migrants to cross its borders

Lithuania’s Prime Minister says she believes Belarus is behind a recent spike of illegal immigration into Lithuania, following a threat by its president that it will no longer prevent migrants from crossing its western border.

Lithuania has been pushing back migrants since early August and only a few dozen have been allowed in.

On Wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights said the Afghan migrants were vulnerable following the Taliban’s takeover of power in Kabul on 15 August and were seeking international protection.

“The applicants should not be removed to Belarus, provided that they are already on Lithuanian territory” before 29 September pending further proceedings, it said.

Border Guard Chief Rustamas Liubajevas told BNS news wire that Lithuania was not obliged by the court to allow the migrants to enter from Belarus.

The migrants’ lawyer, Asta Astrauskiene, told Reuters they left Belarus on Sunday and had been hiding inside Lithuanian territory since then. The border guards were called to the location by the lawyer on Thursday but they pushed the migrants out into Belarus territory, she said.

“We will now inform the Court about the situation and will ask it to tell Lithuania to let them back in,” Astrauskiene said. She got into contact with the migrants after a request for help from another lawyer, she told BNS.

Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite told Reuters she saw the case as “an obvious attempt to open a new route for illegal migration, by manipulating the Afghanistan events”.

“Lithuania is ready to help Afghanistan citizens if they arrive legally. But we will not allow anyone to abuse our asylum system and to turn Lithuanian into a thoroughfare for illegal migration”, Bilotaite said via a spokeswoman.

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