According to recent news reports, Lithuanian authorities are considering expanding the capacity of the Pabrade Detention Centre (the “Foreigners Reception Centre) as a response to an increase in irregular migration from Belarus. Previously, the Global Detention Project (GDP) reported on this platform that the government announced in March 2020 a series of COVID-related measures that included quarantine and border closures. The government subsequently announced, in August 2020, plans to prepare new premises to quarantine arriving refugees as a COVID-19 response measure, though few details about this plan seem to have been released since then.
In mid-June 2021, Lithuania’s foreign minister said that irregular migration from Belarus was on the rise, purportedly as part of an effort to “weaponise” migration to Europe. Speaking to the Financial Times, the Lithuanian official accused Belarusian authorities of engaging in a “hybrid attack against Europe” by offering Syrians and Iraqis package travel deals via the state-run tourist agency Tsentrkurort. Allegedly, the deals include flights from Baghdad and Istanbul, and travel to the Lithuanian border. “This is weaponised migration that is directly aimed at Lithuania. The reason? It’s quite easy to guess. We are outspoken, we shelter the main opposition leaders [from Belarus],” said the minister.
According to statistics provided by the Financial Times, Lithuania apprehended 387 persons at the Belarus border between January and 14 June this year, compared to 74 throughout 2020. The newspaper also states that, “So far this year, Lithuania has detained almost double the migrants who crossed the frontier from Belarus than the combined total for the three previous years.”
Discussing the need to expand Pabrade’s capacity in the wake of increased arrivals, the facility’s director stated that a tented area will house up to 350 people, and that tents will include heating and cooling systems. According to the director, “The choice of accommodation would depend on the vulnerability of arriving foreigners, whether those are single persons, or families with children, or single mothers. And we think that accommodation in tents would be offered to single persons.”
The GDP reported in a 2019 report on Lithuania that the Pabrade facility has been the focus of repeated criticism for its poor detention conditions, allegations of disproportionate use of force, and overcrowding. The facility is currently believed to be undergoing renovations, due for completion in 2022.
Although Lithuania imposed restrictions on access to its territory during the pandemic, UNHCR’s COVID-19 website reports that such restrictions have not applied to asylum seekers. However, in July 2020 the country’s cabinet of ministers blocked the resettlement of a Syrian family from Jordan, citing COVID-19 risks. The cabinet’s decision sparked controversy, given that authorities had granted permission to Russian, Ukrainian, and Kazakh basketball teams to enter Lithuania to attend training camps.
In 2015, Lithuania agreed to accept 1,105 refugees through the EU’s refugee resettlement scheme–although this quota was later decreased to 1,077. As of May 2021 only 499 people had been relocated to the country.
- LRT English, “Lithuania Mulls Plans to Build Refugee Camp,” 10 June 2021, https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1428986/lithuania-mulls-plans-to-build-refugee-camp
- R. Milne and J. Shotter, “Belarus ‘Weaponising’ Illegal Migration, Lithuania Says,” Financial Times, 15 June 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/0ad28032-6102-41a0-ad8d-b80460e52867
- B. Bathke, “Lithuania Says Belarus Could be Behind Recent Migrant Influx,” InfoMigrants, 10 June 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/32837/lithuania-says-belarus-could-be-behind-recent-migrant-influx
- UNHCR, “COVID-19 Platform: Temporary Measures and Impact on Protection,” https://im.unhcr.org/covid19_platform/
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Lithuania: Detention and Denial Amidst Extreme Population Decline,” May 2019, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/immigration-detention-lithuania-detention-denial-amidst-extreme-population-decline
- LRT English, “Lithuania to Admit Some 100 Refugees in 2021,” 6 May 2021, https://www.lrt.lt/en/news-in-english/19/1403406/lithuania-to-admit-some-100-refugees-in-2021
- European Commission, “Lithuania: Lithuania Government Stops Relocation of Syrian Family Quoting COVID-19,” 30 July 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/migrant-integration/news/lithuania-lithuanian-government-stops-relocation-of-syrian-family-quoting-covid-19