Brussels (Brussels Morning) A majority in the Lithuanian parliament passed a law on Tuesday to legalise the mass detention of asylum seekers. The vote follows a surge of African, Asian and Middle Eastern migrants entering the country from Belarus.
The controversial act was passed with 84 votes in favour in the 141-seat legislature, despite loud protests from the International Committee of the Red Cross and human rights NGOs, which claimed that the proposal violated both Lithuania’s international obligations and the rights of asylum seekers.
The law will allow for mass detention of asylum seekers, and would limit their rights to appeal. The Lithuanian government hopes that the measure, along with other efforts, will stem the tide of migrants entering from Belarus.
Lithuania had already deployed troops on its border with Belarus to deter the migrants from entering, and had begun constructing a barrier wall to stop illegal crossings. Most of the Lithuanian-Belarus border straddles uninhabited or sparsely populated areas, much of it passing through wetlands and forests, making it hard to police and relatively easy to cross.
Frontex, the EU’s Border and Coast Guard Agency, announced plans this weekend to assist Lithuania in coping with the increased migration pressure. It pledged to help gather and exchange relevant information about illegal border crossings. Lithuanian authorities reported that at least 1,500 migrants have entered from Belarus this year, most of them having arriving in the past two weeks.
The migrant drive is the outcome of strong-arm tactics by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in retaliation for EU sanctions against his country. These were imposed after Belarusian jets forced a commercial airline’s international flight to land in Minsk in order to carry out the arrest of a dissident journalist. Lithuania’s Prime Minister, Ingrida Simonyte claims the Lukashenko regime is even paying for migrants’ airline tickets to Belarus.