On Thursday the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that Lithuanian national law, which allows an applicant for international protection to be denied the right to asylum and placed in automatic detention on the grounds that they have irregularly crossed the border, is incompatible with EU legislation.
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg has condemned Lithuania for its decision to detain an asylum seeker known as MA after he crossed the Lithuanian border. The court found the practice of denying the right to asylum to be in violation of EU law, including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The CJEU's press release stated: "An applicant for international protection can be detained only when, after an individual assessment of each specific case, it becomes necessary, and if it is not possible to use milder measures."
Disproportionate response to influx of asylum seekers
The Lithuanian law, which allows an applicant for international protection to be denied the right to asylum and placed in automatic detention on the grounds that they have irregularly crossed the border, was introduced in response to a large number of migrants coming from Belarus last year. Lithuania along with neighboring countries was criticized for pushbacks and human rights violations in response to people crossing the border.
Lithuania's has claimed that the country has the right to derogate European law in "extraordinary situations" or during the "mass influx of foreigners" were not recognized by the court as a justification for its treatment of asylum seekers. The court also criticized Lithuania for using the security threat argument in an attempt to justify unlawful practices.
"A threat to national security or public order can be used as a justification for detention only if a person’s behaviour causes a real, present, and sufficiently large threat to the fundamental public interest or to the internal or external security of the Member State concerned," the CJEU press release said.
Moreover, the CJEU confirmed that the measures applied in Lithuania are all forms of detention, irrespective of the authorities depicting it as "temporary accommodation" or even an "alternative to detention."
CJEU's ruling confirms findings in Amnesty International report
An Amnesty International report released on June 27, detailed abuses against people who crossed into Lithuania from Belarus, documenting multiple human rights violations by Lithuanian authorities in 2021-2022.
The report documents how refugees and migrants have been held for months in squalid, prison-like conditions in Lithuania, where they are denied access to fair asylum procedures and subjected to other serious human rights violations. In its report Amnesty International also notes that the treatment of people at the Belarus border is in "stark contrast to the benevolence with which people fleeing the war in Ukraine have been received in the EU."
Responding to the court's ruling on Thursday, Nils Muižnieks, Europe Regional Director of Amnesty International, said in a statement that the CJEU has "confirmed the conclusions in our latest report on Lithuania, which details the authorities' flagrant violation of European and international law by not only denying the right to asylum for irregular arrivals in the country, but also arbitrarily detaining them."
Increase in border crossings into Lithuania from Belarus
In July 2021, with an increase in the number of people arriving at the Lithuania-Belarus border, Lithuanian lawmakers adopted new legislation that deviates from international and EU legal safeguards on the right to asylum and arbitrary detention.
Muižnieks explained that Lithuania is duty bound by its international obligations to offer access to international protection to asylum seekers. He urged that "the authorities should immediately repeal this repressive legislation. It is essential that Lithuania offers access to fair asylum procedures to all who express a need to gain international protection."
"The Lithuanian authorities must also end their cruel practice of automatically detaining refugees and migrants .... depicting detention as 'temporary accommodation' or even an 'alternative to detention' does not allow any derogation from the obligation to respect refugees and migrants’ rights against arbitrary detention," Muižnieks added.
CJEU's decision are binding for all EU Member States
The CJEU cooperates with the national courts of the Member States, to ensure the application of European Union legislation is applied in a uniform way across the different EU countries. National courts can refer to the CJEU to clarify a point concerning the interpretation of EU law to avoid divergent approaches.
The CJEU judgment on an issue, such as in the case of Lithuania, will bind the national court to which it is addressed by the interpretation given. The judgment will also act as a precedent and bind other national courts of EU states before which the same problem is raised.