At the end of 1999, Lithuania hosted 67 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 10 persons granted refugee status and 57 asylum seekers awaiting decisions on pending asylum claims.

During 1999, 141 persons applied for asylum in Lithuania. Of these, 28 arrived from Afghanistan, 25 from Vietnam, 20 from India, 15 from Pakistan, and 53 from other countries. Lithuania granted refugee status to 10 persons during the year and rejected 159 asylum seekers. At year's end, 116 individuals awaited decisions on appeals.

Asylum Procedure

Lithuania's parliament adopted a refugee law in 1995, which entered into force in 1997, alongside Lithuania's ratification of the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol.

Under the refugee law, asylum seekers may request asylum when crossing the border, or if present in Lithuania, at a police station. Persons who enter Lithuania illegally may lodge an asylum application, provided they do so within 48 hours. Upon receiving an asylum request, the border or local police inform the Migration Department within the Ministry of the Interior. The Migration Department then decides whether to grant "temporary territorial asylum" and admit the applicant into the pre-screening procedure.

Once accepted into the pre-screening procedure, the authorities transfer asylum seekers to the Pabrade Foreigners Registration Center and conduct interviews to determine their admissibility to the asylum procedure. Asylum adjudicators decide whether any of the exclusion clauses in Lithuania's refugee law would render applicants ineligible to apply for asylum.

The exclusion clauses bar applicants arriving from "safe third countries" and contain provisions that broaden the scope of exclusion beyond UN Refugee Convention standards. Under the law, for example, Lithuania may reject an asylum seeker "who has a dangerous infectious disease 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."

In 1998, Lithuania's parliament amended its refugee law, further 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." The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed concern that the amendment's scope of exclusion (wider than that of the Refugee Convention) could lead to misinterpretation by asylum adjudicators.

The authorities send asylum seekers who pass the pre-screening procedure to the Rukla Reception Center. The center, which opened in 1998, provides food, medical care, legal assistance, and language classes to asylum seekers awaiting an adjudication. The Migration Department interviews applicants in greater length at the center and issues a decision on refugee status.

Rejected applicants can lodge an appeal with the Council of Refugee Affairs within 14 days of notification. The council consists of representatives from various governmental ministries, parliamentary committees, and nongovernmental organizations, such as the Lithuanian Red Cross and the Lithuanian Center for Human Rights. Appeals have a suspensive effect on deportation orders. Applicants rejected in the second instance can file appeals with the courts.

During the year, UNHCR expressed concern regarding the small number of asylum seekers granted asylum in the first instance (less than one percent in 1999) and the slow processing of cases. UNHCR also cited as problematic the lack of an alternative status for asylum seekers who do not meet the Convention criteria but nevertheless need international protection. While the Lithuanian Aliens Law of 1998, which entered into force on July 1, 1999, provides the possibility for 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 by year's end. In the meantime, Lithuania allowed some rejected asylum seekers to remain pending the implementation of these by-laws.

UNHCR also expressed concern about the lack of a family reunification procedure and the paucity of integration programs for recognized refugees. In May, the UN Development Program, in conjunction with the Lithuanian Red Cross, started providing recognized refugees with a one-time financial grant to assist in integration. The program ended in December 1999, however.


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