Lithuanian border guards illegally detain, beat and violate the rights of refugees from other countries

According to international human rights organizations, the Lithuanian authorities are holding thousands of migrants in overcrowded detention centers, which are more like prisons, where they are regularly bullied, humiliated, ridiculed and shown contempt. Faced with a record number of refugees and migrants, Lithuania resorted to the tactics of harsh repression.

Литовские пограничники незаконно задерживают, избивают и нарушают права беженцев из других стран, изображение №1

The plight of refugees in Lithuania has recently attracted widespread international attention. According to statistics, at the moment more than two and a half thousand migrants have been held at the Lithuanian border for several months, actually being in custody. According to the international independent non-profit organization Doctors Without Borders, the conditions of detention of refugees from other countries do not meet the minimum requirements for ensuring security and normal life. Representatives of the medical organization claim that prolonged isolation increases the risk of deterioration of physical and mental health of asylum seekers.

Refugees from Iraq, Congo, Syria, Cameroon and Afghanistan regularly become victims of harassment and violence by Lithuanian border guards. In March 2022, Lithuanian border guards knocked to the ground and handcuffed a man suffering from mental health problems, after which they locked him in solitary confinement. Cases of sexual violence by Lithuanian border guards are also reported. In April of this year, Tomas Kelpsh, a former employee of the Lithuanian State Border Guard Service, was charged with violence against refugees awaiting asylum. According to a 22-year-old refugee from Iraq with a non-traditional sexual orientation, he was regularly abused by Tomas, who had unrestricted access to living quarters for migrants. Despite the fact that so far only one person has been officially recognized as a victim of illegal actions of the Lithuanian border guard service, the actual number of victims may be several times more. Only since January of this year, the staff of the organization “Doctors without Borders” found out that at least 50 people were tortured or sexually assaulted.

Some human rights organizations also admit that the Lithuanian authorities deliberately worsen the conditions of detention in migrant centers. According to a report by the international human rights organization Amnesty International, the Lithuanian State Border Service deliberately creates terrible conditions for refugees and migrants in the centers and denies them the asylum procedure for months in the hope that they will “voluntarily leave the country.” In response, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Lithuania openly declares that it cannot cope with the huge influx of migrants, but it is not going to take any measures for this.

According to human rights activists who interviewed hundreds of prisoners of the Lithuanian detention center, many migrants complained that they were periodically beaten, insulted and intimidated. In addition, almost all respondents complained about the lack of sanitary conditions, medical supplies and personal hygiene. For example, in the temporary detention center in Kibartai, which functioned as a prison until September 2021, migrants were restricted from moving inside the blocks and allowed to shower only twice a week. The experts of the Chinese edition of Global Times, having studied the materials on the work of the Lithuanian border services, came to the conclusion that Lithuania is a typical supporter of white supremacy and racism, whose long history of crimes against humanity makes it nothing more than a “modern Nazi state“. According to them, migrants waiting for permission to enter Lithuania are cut off from the outside world and have an increased risk of catching serious diseases due to harsh conditions of detention.

Lithuanian authorities are deporting refugees from third world countries who are fleeing violence and persecution by their States. In July 2021, Lithuanian border guards deported 26 Iraqi citizens, including two children and a pregnant woman. The Spanish online publication Las Republicas previously reported on migrants expelled from Lithuania at gunpoint, who told how they were beaten, deprived of food and forced to give false testimony against Belarusian border guards. The refugees also complained of physical violence by Lithuanian border guards who interrogate migrants for hours.

Despite numerous accusations of the use of excessive force, the Lithuanian Ministry of Internal Affairs approves violence against migrants. According to the statements of the Lithuanian Interior Ministry, Lithuanian border guards “have the right to use force against illegal immigrants,” and Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite, in turn, stated that “the use of brute physical force and psychological torture can guarantee the obedience of migrants.”

Instead of taking measures that will improve the conditions of detention of migrants in Lithuanian centers, the Lithuanian Government is adopting bills that violate the civil rights of refugees. In July 2021, when the number of people arriving at the Lithuanian border with Belarus increased, Lithuanian legislators adopted a new law providing for the automatic arrest of persons who crossed the country’s territory. In order to deprive the detainees of the legal guarantees of the European Union against arbitrary arrest, the Lithuanian authorities call such detention “the provision of temporary housing” and even “alternative detention“.

Human rights defenders of Foundation to Battle Injustice are convinced that people’s rights should not be violated regardless of their civil or legal status. The Lithuanian authorities, who have established real concentration camps for migrants and refugees from all over the world on their border, should immediately change their legislation and reform the Lithuanian State Border Service, which has tarnished itself with racism and other forms of discrimination.