U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Lithuania
|Publisher||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants|
|Publication Date||1 January 1999|
|Cite as||United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Lithuania , 1 January 1999, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8ce1c.html [accessed 19 November 2017]|
At the end of 1998, Lithuania hosted about 127 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 34 persons granted refugee status and 93 asylum seekers awaiting decisions on pending asylum claims.
During 1998, 159 persons applied for asylum in Lithuania. Of these, 38 percent were Afghans, 20 percent Sri Lankan, 9 percent Indian, and 9 percent Pakistani. Lithuania granted refugee status to 28 persons – mostly Afghans – during the year, and rejected 104 asylum seekers. Of those denied refugee status, 58 percent were from Afghanistan and 32 percent from Somalia. Some 14 rejected asylum seekers facing deportation from Lithuania were of concern to UNHCR.
Lithuania's parliament adopted a Law Concerning the Status of Refugees (hereafter "refugee law") on July 4, 1995, which entered into force on July 27, 1997, alongside Lithuania's ratification of the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol. Throughout 1998, UNHCR worked with Lithuanian authorities to bring the asylum procedure into compliance with international standards. UNHCR trained migration officials on asylum procedures, international refugee law, and refugee registration. However, several gaps in Lithuania's ability to receive and protect asylum seekers remained.
On November 13, UNHCR reported that Lithuania's Refugee Affairs Board had not decided any appeals cases in six months because "not enough members participated in the Board meetings." At that time, 52 appeals were pending.
Despite signing the UN Refugee Convention, Lithuania, like many of its European neighbors, adopted a refugee law that restricts access to the asylum procedure for the vast majority of asylum seekers.
Article 4 of the refugee law excludes applicants arriving from "safe countries of origin" and "safe third countries." To implement the safe country provisions of the refugee law, Lithuania negotiated readmission agreements with surrounding countries.
By the end of 1998, Lithuania had conducted readmission agreements with Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine. Lithuania had signed agreements with Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Poland, Portugal, and Spain that were not yet in effect and was reportedly considering readmission agreements with Russia, Belarus, Romania, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, China, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The number of persons returned under these agreements was unavailable.
Article 4 of the refugee law also contains provisions that broaden the scope of exclusion beyond UN Refugee Convention standards. Under the refugee law, for example, Lithuania may reject an asylum seeker "who has a dangerous infectious illness or does not agree to a medical examination under the suspicion that he or she has one." Another provision replaces the Convention's "has committed" a serious nonpolitical crime with "is accused of a nonpolitical crime."
On July 16, Lithuania's parliament amended Article 4, broadening its exclusion clauses to asylum seekers deemed to have "evaded responsibility" for crimes committed while serving in "repressive structures of totalitarian regimes or collaborating with the occupational regime which ruled a country..." UNHCR expressed concern that the amendment's wider scope of exclusion (than the Refugee Convention) could lead to misinterpretation by asylum adjudicators.
Other elements of Lithuania's asylum procedure were of concern to UNHCR in 1998. Of these, UNHCR cited: the lack of an alternative status for rejected asylum seekers who cannot return to their home countries ( a new "Law on the Status of Foreigners" – enacted on December 17 yet not in effect at year's end – may provide for temporary residence on humanitarian grounds); insufficient safeguards for women and children asylum seekers; and the lack of a family reunification procedure.
In June, a working group comprised of members of the refugees affairs board, UNHCR, and the ministries of justice, interior, foreign affairs, and social security and labor, began drafting a new refugee law. A draft of the law was to be completed by year's end. However, coordination among the different ministries reportedly prolonged the process.
Prior to enacting the refugee law in 1997, Lithuania did not differentiate asylum seekers from undocumented migrants, viewing all as illegal entrants, subject to imprisonment.
Under the refugee law, asylum seekers may request asylum when crossing Lithuania's border. This includes persons who enter illegally, provided they file an application within 48 hours. Illegal migrants and asylum seekers are sent to the Foreigners Registration Center in Pabrade, which holds up to 400 persons.
During 1998, Lithuania reportedly detained 475 illegal immigrants, asylum seekers, and other third country nationals. At year's end, 219 immigrants and asylum seekers were detained at Pabrade.
According to a Lithuanian parliament member who visited the center late in 1997, Pabrade detainees lived in poor, overcrowded conditions, and were sometimes held in solitary confinement for a week or more for minor offenses. Detainees rioted several times in 1997 to protest Pabrade's poor conditions.
In 1998, a mix of humanitarian aid, border control funding, and voluntary returns improved conditions at Pabrade. On March 2, 1998, the Ministry for Internal Affairs announced that the European Union had pledged more than $750,000 to fortify the Center's infrastructure and increase its capacity. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) funded renovations of the Center's schools and social services. By year's end, UNHCR reported that living conditions at Pabrade had improved.
In May, Lithuania began transferring asylum seekers whose applications were accepted for processing to a new refugee reception center in Rukla, in the Jonava region. Asylum seekers at Rukla reportedly received shelter, food, medical care, legal assistance, preschool child care, and language classes.
On July 29, Lithuania reportedly returned three Kurdish asylum seekers to Turkey involuntarily. Lithuanian police reportedly arrested the three undocumented residents and sent them to Pabrade Foreigners Registration Center where they requested asylum. Lithuanian authorities refused to register their claims and, despite UNHCR intervention, deported them. Two days later, UNHCR convinced authorities to suspend the deportation of three more Turkish asylum seekers whom Lithuania planned to deport on similar grounds.