Lithuania Votes to Curb Migrant Flow from Belarus

Lithuania voted on July 13 to curb an influx of migrants crossing into its territory from neighboring Belarus.

With 84 votes in favor, one against, and 58 abstentions, the Lithuanian parliament passed strict amendments to migration laws to allow mass detention of migrants, as well as quicker deportations even during their appeal process.

The amendments would also limit migrants’ right to appeal and would reduce the processing time of asylum applications from as many as several months to 10 days.

The amendments drew criticisms from human rights groups, including Lithuanian Red Cross which said that the law “would fundamentally legitimize human rights violations and threaten vulnerable people.”

“If the amendments to the law restrict the opportunities for these people to receive help, their situation will worsen even more,” Lithuanian Red Cross Director Kristina Meidė said in a statement on Facebook.

However, Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite, who introduced the bill to the parliament, said that the migrants were “not real asylum seekers” but were Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s “tool to use against Lithuania.”

“We react adequately — we must take care of national security, ensure the protection of external [European Union] borders, and protect the interests of our people,” Bilotaite said in a statement on Facebook.

Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis similarly said that the migrants were not fleeing “war, plague, or famine” but were students in Belarus with long-term visas “in completely safe conditions.”

“They are being sent on a compulsory basis as a weapon against us. We must repel the attack,” Landsbergis said.

Last week, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte announced that they began building a physical barrier on the border with Belarus to prevent illegal migration flow as hundreds of migrants have crossed into Lithuanian territory from Belarus in recent weeks.

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