African migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are discriminated against in Lithuania as the country’s authorities prolong detention without a mandated court-issued extension. Many people are reported to have grave vulnerabilities and have been tortured or sexually assaulted.
An international humanitarian organisation, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), in a press statement released on Tuesday, described it as a ‘hierarchy of suffering’ where people also experience an alarming deterioration in their mental health due to flawed migration practices.
Currently, about 700 refugees and asylum seekers are being detained in Kybartai, Pabrade, and Rukla, as well as Naujininkai Foreigner Registration Centres (FRCs) in Lithuania, after having crossed the border from Belarus in 2021.
MSF observed that people from certain countries “are significantly more likely to have this detention extended, remain detained after their detention order has expired, or have the limited freedom of movement they may have been granted revoked”.
For instance, in August, Nigerians made up 16 per cent of the 184 migrants detained in Kybartai FRC. Yet they constitute nearly 28 per cent of the people enduring prolonged detention.
“The largest nationality group made up 18 per cent of the total population, but under 2 per cent of the extensions to detention,” MSF explained.
Russian and Belarusian asylum seekers who arrived in the FRC were not detained at all, and 100 per cent of them have been granted limited freedom of movement.
One of the detainees experiencing prolonged detention told MSF, “There are so many things which were not equal treatment. They treat us differently. I don’t feel bad about this, because it’s not strange to me. You just need to accept how life is. You just need to keep breathing. If you kept breathing for 12 months, you can keep breathing.”
Another detainee held in one of the FRCs said he had tried to kill himself. “I am so desperate, I tried to hurt myself because I want to go out from this prison, many times, I really decided to be ready to kill myself.”
Georgina Brown, MSF’s Country Manager in Lithuania, stated that “instead of responding to their needs, the Lithuanian authorities are worsening their mental suffering by detaining them and holding them in limbo”.
MSF urged the Lithuanian government to end prolonged detention of people from certain nationalities and to implement an equitable asylum system that respects the dignity of people seeking safety.
“These men, women, and children are uncertain of their future, terrified of being forcibly returned to the danger they have fled, and imprisoned without freedom, autonomy, or adequate protection,” said Brown.
The poor treatment of refugees in Lithuania is well documented.
After interviewing dozens of migrants, including from Africa, Amnesty International said in June that many people were “held for months on end in squalid, prison-like centres … where they are denied access to fair asylum procedures and subjected to other serious human rights violations in the hope that they will ‘voluntarily’ return to the countries they fled from”.
This, the research and advocacy group said, was in sharp contrast to how people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine have been treated by European countries.
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