A large number of migrants arrived at Lithuania's border during the summer of 2021 | Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/Picture-alliance
A large number of migrants arrived at Lithuania's border during the summer of 2021 | Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/Picture-alliance

Amnesty International has recorded accounts from asylum seekers "pushed" into Lithuania after being lured to Belarus under false pretenses. Some of the migrants were tortured and abused, the report said.

Amnesty International released a report Monday detailing the treatment of people who crossed from Belarus to Lithuania in 2021 and 2022.

The 65-page report revealed accounts of violent pushbacks, torture and sexual violence after migrants arrived in Lithuania, an EU member state. 

Asylum seekers arriving from Belarus were also placed in overcrowded facilities with little access to basic necessities, the report said. 

"The conditions in both centers amounted to torture or other ill-treatment under international and EU law," it added. 

Migrants are being denied access to fair asylum procedures, so that they "voluntarily" return to the countries from which they have fled, Amnesty said. 

Many of the incidents took place after thousands of migrants were brought to the EU border by the regime of Belarus' strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko during the summer of 2021.

The EU has alleged Belarus lured migrants from the Middle East and elsewhere to put pressure on the EU in retaliation for sanctions imposed by Brussels. 

Lithuania declared the influx an "extraordinary situation" and enacted emergency legislation in August 2021, which Amnesty said codified harmful new rules that curtailed migrant rights.

Months later, Vilnius also broke ground on a steel fence on the border with Belarus to stop migrants from crossing. 

From file: Migants at a camp in Lithuania | Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/Picture-alliance
From file: Migants at a camp in Lithuania | Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/Picture-alliance

What abuse did the report detail? 

According to the report, Belarusian operators sold migrants packages promising a safe journey to Belarus and legal access to EU countries for safe haven. However, the migrants realized they had been defrauded soon after their arrival. 

The report detailed how Belarusian authorities pushed migrants to neighboring Lithuania, often by dangerous means. In one account, a Syrian man claimed that he and other migrants were let out of a truck without windows and made to cross a frigid river in an unfamiliar location. 

Once refugees arrived in Lithuania they were put in "temporary accommodation without freedom of movement," according the report.

Amnesty said these facilities amount to detention centers without court order, which violates EU law. The term "temporary accommodation" was used to obstruct this, the rights watchdog added. 

Investigations conducted by Amnesty staff documented that two of these centers were severely crowded, lacked access to quality food, water and recreational activities. The report deemed these facilities equivalent to "torture or other ill-treatment under international and EU law."

Amnesty has called for an immediate end to pushbacks of refugees and migrants to Belarus by the Lithuanian authorities, as well as an immediate release of asylum seekers held in arbitrary detention.

The report also urged for immediate improvement of Lithuania's migrant detention centers. 

Amnesty further requested that the European Commission step in to assess Lithuania's migration-related programs and ensure that they are up to date with EU standards. The group also called for a repeal of all emergency legislation that curtails the rights of migrants in Lithuania. 

Ukrainians given preferential treatment?

The report also outlined that migrants were angered by the treatment of incoming Ukrainian refugees who had been provided assistance that was not made available to other detainees at the facility. 

Migrants from countries in sub-Saharan Africa reported that they were subject to racial abuse by officers in Lithuania | Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/Picture-alliance
Migrants from countries in sub-Saharan Africa reported that they were subject to racial abuse by officers in Lithuania | Photo: Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/Picture-alliance


"They expressed bitter disappointment at the stark contrast between their own arbitrary detention in centers not fit for habitation and the warm welcome given to Ukrainians, many housed in clean and safe accommodations in Lithuania," the report said. 

A protest broke out in March 2022 which resulted in detention officers deploying an anti-riot squad. The following day, officers conducted a second raid and arrested 16 people alleged to be riot agitators, all from countries in Africa, according to the report.  

People at the facility reported sexual humiliation aimed at Black women and teenage girls in the days following the raids. The women were forced outside into the cold, semi-naked, with hands tied, the report said. 

"I hadn't even been to the demonstration, I told them that I wasn't there," recounted a young woman from sub-Saharan Africa in the report. 

Author: Alexandria Williams

First published: June 27, 2022

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