Lithuania. Detained migrants subjected to beatings, abuse and racism, says Amnesty International
According to Amnesty International, the Lithuanian authorities arbitrarily detained thousands of migrants in prison-like centers where they were beaten, mistreated and racist.
A human rights group report says refugees and migrants have been detained for months in squalid conditions, denied access to fair asylum procedures and subjected to other violations – in hopes they would ‘voluntarily’ leave the country .
The treatment stands in stark contrast to the welcome and generosity with which people fleeing war in Ukraine have been received in the EU, Amnesty says. She accuses the European Union of tacitly condoning the behavior of Lithuania which, according to her, flouts international law.
The group has interviewed hundreds of people it says were unlawfully detained after traveling from countries including Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria and Sri Lanka.
Many people said they were beaten, insulted and subjected to racially motivated intimidation and harassment by guards, according to the campaign group. Access to sanitation facilities and health care was insufficient, he added.
“In Iraq, you hear about human rights and women’s rights in Europe. But here, there are no rights,” said a Yazidi woman detained at the Medininkai detention center near the city. border with Belarus. It is one of two such centers where Amnesty has interviewed detainees.
The Lithuanian government did not immediately respond to Euronews’ request to comment on the allegations.
Complaints follow mass detention law
Amid an influx of people arriving at the Belarusian border, in July 2021, the Lithuanian parliament approved the mass detention of migrants and restricted their right to appeal.
The move was intended to deter large numbers of people from crossing the border into Belarus, but sparked an outcry.
According to Amnesty, thousands of people, many of whom are in need of international protection, have been detained for long periods and have not had access to legal proceedings.
“I want to thank Lithuania for hosting us… But here they don’t treat us well. It’s a prison, not a camp. Everywhere I look there is barbed wire, why? I am not a criminal; I am a refugee,” the group quoted a Syrian man as saying when interviewed in March.
He says thousands more have been violently pushed back across the border into Belarus, where they have no chance of seeking protection.
Hundreds of people in Medininkai are “sleeping in containers on a football pitch”, Amnesty says. Those who spoke to his researchers were in a state of fear due to the “aggressive behavior” of the guards, he said. Detainees who took part in the protests were beaten and subjected to pepper spray and Taser guns.
Amnesty says it has seen video footage in which a group of black women were forced out into the cold, half-naked, with their hands tied, and locked in a container. It was not an isolated incident, he adds.
Other inmates were placed in solitary confinement and bitten by dogs if they tried to escape, the group claims.
Lithuania has said it will no longer seek to extend detention beyond the current 12-month limit, Amnesty notes, but says authorities have yet to say how they will address the violations committed.
The EU’s “two-tier system”
The group criticizes the European Union for allowing a “two-speed system” to develop in recent months.
“While Lithuania has rightly extended a warm welcome to tens of thousands of people fleeing Ukraine, the experience of the detainees we spoke to couldn’t be more different. This raises serious concerns about institutional racism embedded in the Lithuanian migration system,” said Nils Muižnieks, Regional Director of Amnesty Europe.
The rights group accuses the European Commission of ‘tacitly endorsing’ what it calls Lithuania’s attempt to ‘legalise’ pushbacks, automatic detention and denial of asylum through national law – in ‘flagrant’ disregard of European and international law.
The European Border and Coast Guard (Frontex) is also accused of continuing to assist Lithuanian border guards in activities that may contribute to human rights abuses.
“The European Commission has still not taken any action to bring Lithuanian legislation in line with EU law. As long as the European Commission remains inactive, it sends a message to Member States that EU laws can be raped with impunity,” Amnesty said. Nils Muiznieks.