The European Court of Justice (CJEU) found Lithuanian legislation allowing mass detention and preventing asylum requests for irregular arrivals in violation of EU law. Amnesty International reports on abusive practices by Lithuanian authorities. Polish court declare pushbacks illegal as the no-access border zone has been replaced by a with a 186 Kilometer steel wall.

On 30 June, CJEU ruled that Lithuanian migration and asylum laws, preventing irregular migrants from applying for asylum and allowing mass detention in times of what the country defines as “migrant influx”, violate EU law. The judgement was delivered after the Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania (LVAT) referred a case regarding a third-country national, MA, who had entered Lithuania irregularly from Belarus in November 2021, and had been subsequently detained on the grounds of “illegal” entry and residence in the country. Also, his asylum applications were not examined. The CJEU consequently looked at the conditions of migrants in Lithuania to investigate “whether or not their accommodation at closed migrant centres represents detention, and whether or not it is legitimate to deny migrants the right to apply for asylum” and found that the country’s practices of pushbacks, detention on the basis of irregular entries, and denying third-country nationals the right to seek protection are illegal according to the European law. Human rights and asylum lawyer Laurynas Biekša believes that “there is little likelihood that the CJEU’s verdict will make Lithuania change its policy.”

Amnesty International published a report on 27 June detailing Lithuania’s abusive practices against migrants and refugees who entered the country from Belarus to apply for asylum in 2021. Based on interviews with migrants who were unlawfully detained, the organisation reported that Lithuania held refugees and migrants in prison-like centres, “where they are denied access to fair asylum procedures and subjected to other serious human rights violations in the hope that they will ‘voluntarily’ return to the countries they fled from.” In the report, Amnesty International called for an immediate halt to the illegal pushbacks, the release of all those still detained under the ‘temporary accommodation’ regime, fair asylum procedures, compensation for all physical and mental harm suffered, and the investigation of the abusive treatment of migrants and refugees. In a follow-up press release, Amnesty International also highlighted the complicity of the European Commission in the abuses committed against migrants and refugees in Lithuania as it hasn’t triggered infringement proceedings against the country so far and continues to support the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) that cooperates closely with Lithuanian border guards, including in border control and other activities that may contribute to human rights violations. In response to the report, the interior minister of Lithuania pointed out: “The context of the situation has not been taken into account, because these are not just migration processes and these are not war refugees fleeing from war,” and added that “Completely different mechanisms are coming into play; this is a hybrid attack orchestrated by the Belarusian regime”.

Amid ongoing fundamental rights violations, a Polish court has ruled that pushbacks of asylum seekers are unlawful. According to Poland’s Border Guard, almost 40,000 people were returned to Belarus by the end of 2021. The court’s ruling treats a case that was brought by ECRE member the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights concerning a Syrian man who was hospitalised in Poland and then sent back to the Belarus border. The case summary notes that the man was prevented from seeking asylum in Poland and consequently forced back to Belarus where he faced different forms of human rights abuses including rape and torture. According to Human Rights Watch “Although not final, the judgment should prompt the border guard authority to halt unlawful summary returns to Belarus and ensure that people who wish to apply for asylum in Poland can do so.”

On 1 July, Poland has abolished its no-access border zone which is described as “a place of numerous violations against both migrants and those who help them” by ECRE member Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.  In the zone, at least 20 people have died in freezing winter temperatures, 187 people have disappeared and almost 40,000 people were pushed back to Belarus. Poland has replaced the zone with a 186 KM steel wall aimed at stopping migrants from crossing to the EU. According to Süddeutsche Zeitung Newspaper, the wall is Four and a half meters high made from steel, crowned by another meter of barbed wire – about 350 million euros were spent on it. Rights activists and organisations see the wall as a manifestation of the “double standard in the different treatment of the neighbouring Ukrainian refugees – fellow Slavs who are mostly Christian, female and white – and those from the distant Middle East and Africa, many of whom are Muslims and male”. However, the Polish prime minister characterises the wall as “an expression of our efficiency, a testament to our sense of responsibility, prudence and foresight” and as “a part of the fight against Russia.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.