Seimas adopts a law allowing the possibility of turning away irregular migrants at the border
Press release, 25 April 2023
The Seimas adopted amendments to the Law on the State Border and the Guard Thereof whereby it was agreed to provide for the possibility of turning away irregular migrants who have violated the procedure for crossing the state border in times of a state-level emergency or state of emergency. The turning away of irregular migrants will only be possible in the border area up to five kilometres inland from the border. A total of 86 MPs voted in favour of the new provisions, with 8 against and 20 abstentions.
Under the adopted amendments to the Law, the Government will have the right, on the proposal of the National Security Commission, to adopt a decision that foreigners who intend to cross or have already crossed the state border in places not designated for that purpose or in places designated for that purpose, but have violated the procedure for crossing the state border, and are present in the border area, will be refused admission to the territory of the Republic of Lithuania. This provision will be applied individually to each of the foreign nationals in question.
Photo by Olga Posaškova, Office of the Seimas
Under the procedure introduced, the provision refusing entry to Lithuania will not apply where it is established that a foreigner is fleeing armed conflicts and persecution, as specified in the Government decision, or is seeking to enter the territory of the country for humanitarian purposes.
Foreign nationals who are refused entry to the territory of Lithuania will have to undergo an assessment of their need for assistance and, where appropriate, will be provided with the necessary emergency medical or humanitarian assistance.
Laurynas Kasčiūnas, Chair of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence, called the decision a compromise, but one that is unavoidable in today’s geopolitical context. ‘We have managed to stop the process of instrumentalising illegal migration launched by Mr Lukashenko by introducing the policy of turning illegal migrants away. This policy has proven to be successful. Mr Lukashenko has lost his trump cards and the flows of illegal migration have decreased. Statistically, around 20,000 illegal migrants have been turned away. Only expert forecasters can now say how many illegal migrants would have entered Lithuania if we had not pursued the policy of turning them away. This figure, I believe, should be multiplied by at least several times,’ said Mr Kasčiūnas.
In the opinion of Agnė Bilotaitė, Minister of the Interior, the lengthy negotiations have resulted in a balance between our national security and human rights aspects. ‘When we were discussing the need for a physical barrier, all colleagues, both from the opposition and the government, agreed that there was no other alternative to that. The unpredictable nature of the neighbourhood that we live in means that there are certainly new threats to be expected and that there are new things being planned by the regime. At the moment, we have information about ongoing negotiations on new flights from Iran and Iraq. Last week, there was a flight from Tehran, Iran, to Minsk. Nobody knows when regular flights might resume. Therefore, the threats are still very real. That is why we need to have not only a physical barrier, but also a legal one,’ the Minister said. She believed that this would send a clear message that the EU’s external border is closed to illegal migration.
Tomas Vytautas Raskevičius, Chair of the Human Rights Committee, however, gave a different perspective. In his view, the policy of turning migrants away, irrespective of the form it takes and the legal regime under which it is applied, be it an emergency or a state of emergency, runs counter to international law. Moreover, he argued that ‘individual assessment when turning people away at our borders has not taken place, is not taking place and will not take place’.
The amendments to the Law on the State Border and the Guard Thereof also provide for strengthening the protection of the state border by making it legal to engage supporters of the Border Guard Service, and by introducing more clear regulation on cooperation between the State Border Guard Service and other institutions, agencies and the general public.
Rimas Rudaitis, Adviser, Press Office, Information and Communication Department, tel. +370 5 239 6132, e-mail: [email protected]