August 2023 | Authorities reject asylum claim of Belarusian human rights activist
Prominent Belarusian activist Olga Karach has said she was denied asylum by Lithuanian authorities, who claimed Karach poses a threat to Lithuanian national security. Karach leads Our House (Nash Dom), a Belarusian human rights NGO, founded in Belarus in 2002 but relocated to Lithuania in 2014. The NGO has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for its support to Belarusians living in Lithuania and across Europe. In its decision, the Migration Department cited allegations by Lithuania’s State Security Department (Valstybės saugumo departamentas, VSD) that Karach has ties to Russian intelligence services - allegations which Karach has denied. Belarus has considered Karach a terrorist since September 2021 and has declared Nash Dom an extremist organisation. Karach has filed a complaint with the Vilnius Regional Administrative Court for lengthy processing of her asylum request in violation of her rights. Lithuanian law requires asylum requests to be processed at the latest within six months of submission, while her case took almost a year.
June 2023 | Constitutional Court finds restriction of movement of asylum seekers unconstitutional
On 7 June, the Constitutional Court ruled that provisions of a law passed in July 2021 that require asylum seekers to be temporarily held in specified places (such as State Border Guard Service centres) are unconstitutional. The provisions allow asylum seekers to be held for a period of up to six months under a state of emergency while their asylum claims are being processed. The Constitutional Court found that the provisions contradicted Article 20 of Lithuania’s Constitution, which establishes protection against arbitrary detention or arrest and against unlawful restrictions on freedom of movement. It also noted a failure to individually assess a migrant’s circumstances and the absence of due process. The Court of Justice of the European Union had previously ruled in June 2022 that the general detention of asylum seekers without right of appeal violated EU law.
May 2023 | Call for snap election amid municipal expenses scandal
Municipal council members have been accused of abusing expense claims based on recently published expense reports. Municipal councils have been criticised for lax expense reimbursement policies, including a failure to request that expense claims are substantiated by receipts. Three cabinet members were accused of misusing expense claims while working as municipal councillors, leading to the resignation of Education Minister Jurgita Siugzdiniene, who had previously served on Kaunas Council. The Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) party of the centre-right ruling coalition has called for snap elections. Opposition parties have in turn called for the governing coalition to resign.
April 2023 | Amendments legalise migrant “pushbacks”, allow use of coercion
The Seimas passed amendments to the law on the State Border and its Protection, which legalise the forcing of irregular migrants back into Belarus under a declared state of emergency (in force in border regions since September 2022). The law was adopted by 86 votes in favour, eight against and 20 abstentions. This policy of “pushbacks”, which allows the forcible (including physical force) return of migrants across the border, has been in place since August 2021. Migrants may not apply for asylum. A total of 20,100 migrants have since been refused entry to Lithuania from Belarus according to Latvian public broadcaster LRT. The law provides for border guard “sponsors”, civilian volunteers over the age of 18 who can be citizens of any EU member state with permanent residence in Lithuania, and grants them the right to use coercion against migrants and asylum seekers. Sponsors must meet certain educational, and language requirements and must have no criminal conviction or record of misconduct. The UNHCR and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated the need to guarantee effective access to asylum, and the law was widely opposed by local and international civil society organisations.