U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Lithuania
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||20 June 2001|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Lithuania , 20 June 2001, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3b31e1668.html [accessed 5 December 2016]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
At the end of 2000, Lithuania hosted 160 refugees and asylum seekers. These included 18 persons granted refugee status during the year, 79 persons granted temporary residence on humanitarian grounds, and 63 asylum seekers awaiting first-instance decisions.
During the year, 199 persons applied for asylum in Lithuania. These included persons from Chechnya (Russia), Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and several other countries. Of the cases adjudicated in 2000 (including cases pending from 1999), Lithuania granted refugee status to 18 persons. Of those, only three were granted in the first instance. The rest were granted on appeal or through family reunification or birth to refugee parents. Another 79 persons were rejected at the first instance.
The number of Russian nationals applying for asylum in Lithuania increased significantly during the year. According to press reports, several Chechens applied for asylum in Lithuania each month. Most arrived in Vilnius on trains and approached border guards at the railway station.
In April, Britain warned Lithuania that it had tightened asylum regulations to try to dissuade persons from Baltic countries from claiming asylum in Britain. Reports said that in the past two years, nearly 2,000 Lithuanian citizens had sought asylum in Britain, but none had been granted refugee status. In March, more than 100 ethnic Russians from Lithuania sought asylum in Sweden, claiming they were members of a persecuted religious group. Sweden returned them to Poland, where they had spent two months.
New Refugee Law
In June 2000, Lithuania adopted a new version of the Law on Refugee Status, which became effective on September 1.
The new law eliminates an asylum pre-screening procedure that had been criticized for not complying with international standards. However, it includes provisions for "manifestly unfounded" claims, "safe third country," and "safe country of origin."
Under the new law, a person who enters Lithuania and wishes to apply for asylum must do so within 24 hours (or provide a valid reason for not doing so). Border or local police or the staff of the Foreigners' Registration Center interview the applicant and determine the applicant's travel route and motives for seeking asylum.
The application is then transferred to the Migration Department (within the Ministry of Interior), which decides within 48 hours whether the applicant is ineligible for asylum for reasons such as having arrived from a safe third country or having submitted a manifestly unfounded claim.
The law eliminates certain previous grounds of exclusion, including having a "dangerous infectious disease" or having "evaded responsibility" for crimes committed while serving in "repressive structures of totalitarian regimes or collaborating with the occupational regime which ruled a country." The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had expressed concern that the previous law's scope of exclusions (which were wider than that of the UN Refugee Convention) could lead to misinterpretation by asylum adjudicators.
Under the new law, eligible claimants go to the registration center for asylum processing, after which accommodation is arranged. The center must conduct an investigation within 30 days and decide the procedure for examining the substance of the asylum claim.
Police may detain asylum seekers for no longer than 48 hours and only for certain reasons (such as to provide the time necessary to determine the identity of applicants who entered with forged documents). After 48 hours, a court may order that an applicant be placed in the Foreigners' Registration Center. Other asylum applicants are permitted to live where they wish. Early in the year, Lithuania opened a new building at the registration center, which, according to UNHCR, has significantly improved living conditions there.
The accelerated procedure applies for "safe country of origin" claims, for fraudulent and manifestly unfounded claims, or when the applicant could pose a security risk. The Migration Department usually reviews applications in the accelerated procedure within a month of receipt. Under the normal procedure, claims are usually reviewed within six months.
While the claim is being reviewed, asylum applicants have access to various benefits and services, including accommodation (if needed). Persons granted refugee status by the Migration Department receive permanent residence in Lithuania. Rejected applicants may lodge an appeal with the Vilnius District Administrative Court within 14 days of notification. An appeal, however, does not suspend a deportation order.
Persons granted refugee status receive state assistance through a social integration program for one year, which can be extended for up to six months. Such assistance includes a settlement grant, language training, payment for housing and utilities, cash assistance for food, medical assistance, and help finding employment.
At the end of 2000, amendments to the new refugee law were pending. According to UNHCR, the amendments aim to bring the law into full compliance with international and European Union (EU) standards. Among the most positive, said UNHCR, are amendments that provide alternatives to detention and restrictions on the use of border procedures.
During the year, Lithuania made significant progress in implementing the Aliens Law of 1998, which allows certain asylum seekers to receive temporary residence permits on humanitarian grounds. Authorities did not apply the law in 1999 because the necessary administrative by-laws had not been adopted. In May 2000, Lithuania approved regulations that resulted in the processing of humanitarian residence permits. The regulations specify the humanitarian grounds that allow the granting of such permits. The list is not exhaustive. Among other things, a humanitarian residence permit may be issued to an individual from a country experiencing war or natural disasters or to someone who is too ill to be returned home. Humanitarian residents receive the same social integration benefits as refugees.
By the end of the year, Lithuania had granted temporary residence permits to 79 persons. Most were from Russia, Somalia, and Afghanistan.