U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Lithuania
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||10 June 2002|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Lithuania , 10 June 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3d04c15018.html [accessed 31 July 2015]|
At the end of 2001, Lithuania hosted 316 refugees and asylum seekers. These included 3 persons granted refugee status during the year, 229 persons granted temporary residence on humanitarian grounds, and 84 asylum seekers awaiting first-instance decisions.
During the year, 256 persons applied for asylum in Lithuania, including 180 persons from Russia (mostly Chechens), 57 from Afghanistan, and applicants from eight other countries. Of the 238 cases decided in 2001, Lithuania made no grants of refugee status in the first instance, but recognized an Afghan man and his two children as refugees on appeal. Another 145 persons were rejected in first-instance asylum determinations.
The number of Chechens applying for asylum in Lithuania increased significantly during the first half of the year. During that time, 140 Chechens applied for asylum, compared to 94 in all of 2000. According to the Lithuanian Border Service, most Chechen asylum applicants disembarked in Vilnius from trains transiting from Moscow to Kaliningrad. At mid-year, Chechen asylum seekers began alleging that Lithuanian officials were preventing them from disembarking from the transit trains in Vilnius and not allowing them to lodge asylum claims. The dramatic drop in the number of Chechen asylum applicants in the second half of the year supports their allegations.
New Legislation and Regulations
Draft amendments intended to bring Lithuanian refugee law into conformity with international and European Union (EU) standards were pending before the Lithuanian Parliament at the beginning of 2001. During the year, the State Security Department offered an alternative draft amendment that would have taken a more restrictive approach by eliminating procedural safeguards, introducing mandatory detention of asylum seekers, and establishing expedited removal procedures. On December 20, however, the Parliament rejected the alternative draft.
On January 15, 2002, the Parliament adopted the original draft amendments to the refugee law, which eliminated a 24-hour time limit for filing asylum claims upon entering the country. The amendments also added new protections for refugee children, including temporary guardianship for unaccompanied child asylum seekers and the right to family reunification for separated children granted refugee status in Lithuania. The draft law retained the safe-third-country concept as a bar to admission at the border.
In September and October 2001, the Interior Ministry approved a series of new regulations instructing Lithuanian officials on various aspects of the asylum procedure. The regulation on examination of applications for refugee status and issuance of identity documents defines key terms, such as "manifestly unfounded application" and "internal flight alternative," and establishes procedures for issuing refugee travel documents and residence permits. Another regulation requires government-funded interpreters for asylum seekers during the investigation procedure. The Ministry also adopted a regulation on the criteria and procedures for establishing "safe countries of origin" and "safe third countries" and for deporting foreigners back to them.
On December 22, the government adopted a resolution on residence permits that allows close relatives of recognized refugees to rejoin their family members and to acquire temporary residence in Lithuania. However, the resolution did not provide the same opportunity to relatives of persons granted protection on humanitarian (non-Refugee Convention) grounds.
Amendments to Lithuania's 1998 Aliens Law in June specifically brought asylum seekers within its scope. While the amended law will likely allow adjudicators to consider simultaneously refugee status and complementary forms of protection for asylum seekers, it could also lead to the detention of all asylum seekers without proper documents. Asylum seekers previously were exempted from provisions of the Aliens Law requiring detention of improperly documented foreigners.
In May, the Parliament approved legislation to provide almost identical social benefits to Convention refugees and humanitarian refugees and to extend time periods for government-sponsored refugee integration programs. Some benefits, however, such as medical insurance, remained unavailable to humanitarian refugees because they lack permanent-resident status.
New regulations were also introduced regarding detention of foreigners at the Foreigners' Registration Center, a detention camp located in Pabrade, about 27 miles (45 km) from Vilnius. The camp holds a mix of foreigners, including some asylum seekers. The regulation calls for segregation of asylum seekers from other "detained foreigners," as well as the separation of unaccompanied children from adults, and includes lists of detainees' rights and duties, including some rights that specifically enable asylum seekers to pursue their refugee claims.
At year's end a bill was pending that would ease payment of fees for extension of residence permits. Refugees with humanitarian status are usually unemployed and cannot afford the equivalent of the $110 cost to renew their residence permits, causing some persons recognized as needing protection to be regarded as illegal residents.
Accommodation and Detention
Lithuania has two accommodation centers that house asylum seekers. In addition to the Foreigners' Registration Center in Pabrade, another center, the Refugee Reception Center in Rukla, a town 72 miles (120 km) from Vilnius, is designated specifically for asylum seekers. Although asylum seekers are supposed to be held separately from other detained foreigners, in practice, they are sometimes commingled. Generally, the Foreigners' Registration Center is used for detention, both for asylum seekers ordered detained and illegal aliens not seeking asylum, but also for some asylum seekers who are not under detention orders. Since the beginning of 2001, such residents have been allowed to leave the center with formal permission from the administration. The Rukla center makes similar allowances. Asylum seekers who arrive in Lithuania legally are allowed to choose their place of residence. Asylum seekers who arrive with improper documents are required to stay at the Foreigners' Registration Center, at least during the initial stage of the asylum procedure.
After September 11, Lithuanian authorities appeared to take additional security measures with respect to arriving asylum seekers from Afghanistan. A group of 30 Afghan asylum seekers who arrived before September 11 were still being held at year's end on vague national-security grounds. After October, the number of Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Lithuania dropped sharply.