Quick Facts

Dedicated immigration detention sites: 1 (2010)

Capacity at dedicated facility: 265 (2007)

Total persons detained at dedicated facility: 230 (2009)

Maximum length of detention: No limit

Number of asylum applications: 449 (2009)

Number of expulsions: 144 (2009)

Last updated: June 2010

Lithuania Detention Profile


Since independence in 1990, Lithuania has become an important destination for irregular migrants and asylum seekers from the former Soviet republics and Central Asia, receiving considerably higher numbers of asylum seekers compared to the other Baltic countries. Since it became a European Union (EU) member in 2004, Lithuania’s eastern frontier has become an external border for the Euro zone. In addition, Lithuania is an immigrant source country and a key country of origin of trafficked peoples (IOM 2009; Brake 2007). Although Lithuania does not generally detain asylum seekers, irregular migrants are often detained for as long as nine months in conditions that observers qualify as very poor (JRS 2010; Caritas 2007).


Detention Policy


Lithuania’s first immigration law after independence from the Soviet Union, adopted in March 1991, was aimed in part at restricting the number of immigrants from other former Soviet republics (Brake 2007). Since then, the country has adopted a series of additional laws and amendments governing immigration and citizenship.


Norms governing administrative detention are mainly provided in three laws: the Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners (29 April 2004, amended 29 November 2006); the Law on Administrative Proceedings (14 January 1999, amended 11 November 2006); and the Order and Conditions of Temporary Accommodation of Foreigners at the Foreigners Registration Centre (January 29, 2001).


In January 1997, the government opened the Foreigners’ Registration Centre, Lithuania’s first—and, as of mid-2010, only—dedicated immigration detention centre (Kukuraitis 2010; Caritas 2007, p. 65; Migration Department 2010). Previously, irregular non-citizens were generally held in police cells while they awaited deportation or to have their status determined (Caritas 2007, p. 65).


Grounds for detention. Articles 112 and 113 of the Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners stipulates that a foreign national may be detained on administrative grounds for one or more of the following reasons: in order to prevent unauthorised admission into national territory; in case of unauthorised entry or stay; 3) upon suspicion that a non-citizen is using false documents; 4) if he/she has been placed in deportation proceedings; 5) to prevent the spread of dangerous or communicable diseases; and/or 6) when a person is considered to be a threat to public security (Caritas 2007, p. 66, JRS 2010 p. 248).                           


Length of detention. Article 114 of the Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners authorises the police or any law enforcement officer to detain non-nationals for an initial maximum period of 48 hours. A court must then authorise detention beyond this period (Caritas 2007, p. 66). There is no legal maximum duration of administrative detention; however, the court order authorising detention must clearly determine its duration (article 116). Article 119 states that the detainee must be released immediately once there are no longer grounds for his or her detention or the detention period of the order expires (Caritas 2007, p. 67). Article 117 provides detainees with the right to appeal the regional court’s decision and apply for alternative measures to detention (Caritas 2007, p. 66).


Asylum seekers. After Lithuania ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention in July 1997, the Foreigners’ Registration Centre continued to detain some asylum seekers while their claims were being processed. After it was opened in 1998, the non-secure Refugee Reception Centre in Rukla began housing asylum seekers (Rukla website).


The 2004 Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners made no distinction between the grounds for detention for unauthorized third-country nationals and asylum seekers. Despite this, alternative options—such as non-secure accommodation without restriction of movement, or reporting to local police stations—were the most frequently used for asylum seekers (Caritas 2007, p. 66).


Amendments to the Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners adopted in 2006 eliminated the legal basis for the detention of asylum seekers. Since then, asylum seekers have generally not been detained; instead, they have been housed in a non-secure section of the Foreigners’ Registration Centre or in other open reception centres (Caritas 2007, p. 66, JRS 2010). According to UNHCR, however, asylum seekers are often turned away at the border without having their claims reviewed (U.S. State Department 2010).


Children and families. According to article 118 of the Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners, minors may be detained but only in “extreme” cases and when it is considered to be in his or her interest. According to a 2010 study by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), children and families are not detained in Lithuania. Families are accommodated at the non-secure section of the Foreigners’ Registration Centre, “which includes separate apartments for couples and families with young children" (JRS 2010; p. 257). Additionally, according to Lithuania’s Asylum Affairs, unaccompanied minors are not detained; they are placed under the care of guardians, are provided accommodation and an allowance, and have the right to attend public schools (Asylum Affairs 2009).


Access to detainees and provision of services. During 2002-2007, Caritas-Vilnius and the Lithuanian Red Cross provided social services and legal assistance to both asylum seekers and irregular migrants held at the  Foreigners’ Registration Centre. Since 2008, however, officials have cut off their access to detainees (JRS 2010, p. 258).


Regulations stipulated in the Order and Conditions of Temporary Accommodation of Foreigners’ at the Foreigners’ Registration Centre provide that detainees have the right to obtain legal assistance from the state; to receive and send unlimited parcels, books, money, postal orders; and to access to the telephone. Upon permission of the head of the facility, detainees may receive visitors, and they have a right to their own attorney if they are able to pay for his or her services (art.17). They have the right to an interpreter and the right to communicate with UNHCR representatives (art. 18); they are to have access to health care and emergency aid (art. 29); and psychological services are to be provided to vulnerable people, including victims of torture, rape, minors, single women, and the elderly (art. 35).


The Jesuit Refugee Service found the ongoing medical attention past the initial screening to be inadequate. Furthermore, contact with the outside world was difficult as the fixed telephone was often out of order and mobile phones were not permitted (JRS 2010, p. 255-6).



Detention Infrastructure


There is only one detention centre in Lithuania, the Foreigners’ Registration Centre, which is located near the Belorussian border, in Pabrade, on the site of a former military base (Kukuraitis 2010; JRS 2010; Caritas 2007; CPT 2001, pp. 49-53). The facility is run by the State Border Guard Service, which is under the Ministry of Interior. It has two separate areas: a non-secure, renovated section for asylum seekers, which does not restrict movement, and an un-renovated, secure section for illegally-staying third country nationals (JRS 2010, p. 257; Caritas 2007).


Men and women are segregated at the Foreigners’ Registration Centre. There is currently no special area for the detention of families, although there is an area in the non-secure section of the facility for accommodating families (Caritas 2007, p. 65, 69; JRS 2010, p. 252).


There are indoor and outdoor spaces available for sports activities, and detainees may move freely between them during the day. There are four to six beds per cell. During a visit in 2007, Caritas received numerous complaints from detainees, which were reiterated in the Jesuit Refugee Service’s 2010 survey. Detainees complained of the poor conditions, buildings badly in need of renovation, damaged equipment, cold, dampness, poor ventilation, harsh treatment from the wardens and a lack of activities (Caritas 2007, p. 70; JRS 2010, p. 253, 258-9).



Facts & Figures


A total of 251 people were detained for “illegal entry and/or illegal stay” in 2009. Of these 18 were detained for less than 48 hours; 21 did not have any restriction of movement (of whom two were held in the non-secure section of the Foreigners’ Registration Centre); and 212 were detained in the secure facility for more than 48 hours (Migration Department 2010, p. 90). In 2007, Caritas found the average period of detention in 2006 to be two and a half months (Caritas 2007, p. 71). More recently, the Jesuit Refugee Service found the average length of detention to be nine and a half months, and the longest period of detention to be three years (JRS 2010, p. 251). The maximum capacity of the secure section of the Foreigners’ Registration Centre is 265 persons (250 places for men and 15 for women) (Caritas 2007, p. 69).


Asylum seekers came from a total of 23 countries in 2008, but by far the greatest number came from Russia (243). Uzbeks, Georgians, Belarusians, and Afghanis are also frequent asylum applicants, and 2009 saw significant increases in Sri Lankans and Iraqi asylum seekers (Migration Department 2010, p. 81). Three unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in 2009 (Migration Department, 2010, p. 88).


During 2009, a total of 320 people were held at the open section of the Foreigners’ Registration Centre. The largest national groups held in both the open and closed sections of the Centre were Georgians, Russians, and Belarusians (Migration Department, 2010, p. 91). 


Asylum applications have been relatively constant in recent years, fluctuating between 410 in 2005 and 449 in 2009. Of these, 155 applications were rejected; 221 were granted subsidiary protection; and 11 were given refugee status (Migration Department 2010, p. 81, 83-4). There were 93 pending asylum cases at the end of 2009 (Migration Department website 2010). In 2009, 1,035 foreign nationals were “obliged to depart” and a further 144 were expelled (Migration Department 2010, p. 94-5).