Lithuania has expelled five Afghan nationals back to neighboring Belarus in spite of an order by the European Court of Human Rights that they be allowed to stay.
Five Afghan migrants were sent back across the border to Belarus by Lithuanian authorities on Thursday (September 9). The men had been in hiding in Lithuania since September 5 when they had managed to enter after at least 10 unsuccessful attempts.
The Afghans arrived in Belarus in August 2021 and wanted to enter Lithuania to seek asylum. They said that they had been forced to flee Afghanistan because, as western and educated Afghan nationals, they are especially vulnerable to Taliban reprisals.
Lithuania ordered not to send migrants back
The migrants' case had been brought to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the basis that they faced the risk of ill-treatment if returned to Belarus, in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Belarus is not a signatory to the Convention.
On Wednesday, the ECHR issued Lithuania with an interim order saying that the migrants should not be forced back to Belarus because they were vulnerable following the Taliban's takeover of power in Afghanistan.
"The applicants should not be removed to Belarus, provided that they are already on Lithuanian territory" before September 29 pending further proceedings, the court said.
Minister says Afghans must 'arrive legally'
But Rustamas Liubajevas, the chief of the Border Guard, told the Baltic news agency BNS on Thursday that Lithuania was not obliged by the court to allow the migrants to enter from Belarus.
"We intend to not allow the illegal migrants into Lithuanian territory," a statement from the Border Guard said.
The Lithuanian interior minister, Agne Bilotaite, told Reuters that she saw the case as "an obvious attempt to open a new route for illegal migration, by manipulating the Afghanistan events."
"Lithuania is ready to help Afghanistan citizens if they arrive legally. But we will not allow anyone to abuse our asylum system and to turn Lithuanian into a thoroughfare for illegal migration," Bilotaite said via a spokesperson.
More than 4,100 migrants from the Middle East and South Asia have entered Lithuania this year. The European Union has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of trying to send them over its borders with Lithuania, Latvia and Poland in retaliation for EU sanctions imposed on the Minsk government.
All three EU states have been turning migrants away since early August. The ECHR has also issued interim measures in respect of groups of Iraqi and Afghan nationals stranded at the Belarusian border with Latvia and Poland.
The lawyer for the five Afghan migrants, Asta Astrauskiene, told Reuters that she would ask the ECHR to tell Lithuania to let the five Afghan men back in.