Joint Submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
95th Session – January/ February 2024
Issues Related to the Immigration Detention of Children
The Global Detention Project (GDP) and the Human Rights Monitoring Institute (HRMI) welcome the opportunity to provide information relevant to the fifth and sixth periodic review of Lithuania with respect to the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child during its 95th session.
This submission focuses on the state party’s laws and practices concerning detention of children for immigration-related reasons and is made in light of the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s (CRC) authoritative General Comment No. 5 on migrants’ rights to liberty and freedom from arbitrary detention, as well as the joint CRC/Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW) General Comment No. 23 (2017)/No. 4 (2017) on “State obligations regarding the human rights of children in the context of international migration in countries of origin, transit, destination and return.”
In recent years, Lithuania has faced growing pressures on its borders, including in particular its shared border with Belarus, as the numbers of undocumented border crossers has grown. Lithuania has accused Belarus of using vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers as political pawns in its ongoing spat with the EU by pushing them across the border into Lithuania and other neighbouring countries. Previously, in June 2021, the EU had imposed sanctions on Belarus over an “escalation of serious human rights violations and the violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition and journalists.” In response, Belarus stated that they would allow migrants to cross into Lithuania, which subsequently reported a significant increase in the numbers of people crossing the Lithuania-Belarus border.
As the number of people arriving at Lithuania’s border increased, Lithuanian lawmakers adopted new legislation allowing authorities to detain for six months all migrants and asylum seekers arriving at a time of martial law or state of emergency, or a state of emergency due to the mass influx of foreigners. As a result, thousands of migrants and asylum seekers were detained in Lithuania, including children. As of mid-August 2021, 4,110 people had been detained at the Lithuanian border (2,882 detained in July alone), compared to 81 apprehended during all of 2020. In 2022, amendments to the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens (which entered into force on 1 January 2022) provided for such de facto detention for up to 12 months.
Until 2021, Lithuania operated one immigration detention facility: the Pabradė Detention Centre (also known as the Foreigners Registration Centre). This facility has attracted widespread criticism for many years due to its poor conditions, repeated allegations of disproportionate use of force, and over-crowding. In 2022, authorities announced that they would be building a “Migrant Multifunctional Centre” on the territory of the facility. Two new buildings are to be constructed for detaining foreigners in improved living conditions. The builds will include sports, employment, and prayer rooms, as well as living rooms with separate sanitary facilities, kitchens, a canteen, a gym, children’s rooms, and offices for psychologists and social workers.
Following the arrival of large numbers of irregular migrants in 2021, authorities established two additional detention facilities. In Medininkai, a camp made of modular houses was set up (Medininkai Foreigners Registration Centre), and 900 people were reported to be detained here during at the height of the crisis. In mid-August 2022, migrants who remained in the facility were moved to other centres, and the facility was closed and dismantled. Vulnerable groups in the facility–namely groups with children, especially infants–were moved to a reception centre in the former Vilnius Hostel. This centre was guarded by police officers, and police patrols in the surrounding streets were also reinforced.
On 20 September 2021, authorities also opened the Kybartai Alien Registration Centre. Initially, an estimated 700 male migrants were confined here–most of whom had been moved from a tent camp in Rūdninki. This centre was closed in March 2023.
As of January 2022, Lithuania also operated two Refugee Reception Centres, managed by the Ministry of Social Security and Labour. These were located in the village of Rukla (central Lithuania) and Naujininkai (in Vilnius). As of early 2022, these centres were de facto detaining several thousand foreigners who had irregularly crossed the border with Belarus in the second half of 2021.
The reception centres primarily accommodate foreigners who are vulnerable persons. Vulnerable persons are defined as persons with special needs (e.g. a minor, a disabled person, a person over 75 years of age, a pregnant woman, a single parent with minor children, a person with mental and behavioural disorders, a victim of trafficking in human beings, or a person who has been subjected to torture, rape, or other forms of serious psychological, physical, or sexual violence).
Non-citizens who apply for asylum at the border and are subject to accelerated asylum procedures may be held at border crossing points and in transit zones for up to 28 days. According to UNHCR, the border procedure may fall short of international standards because it does not have sufficient safeguards against unlawful or arbitrary detention. According to the Ombudsman, the State Border Guard Service oversees 70 facilities where non-citizens may be detained in the court of border procedures.
In the face of this “migration crisis,” it became evident that the country was unprepared to address the challenges posed by the migration phenomenon–both in the short and long term. Despite efforts to characterise the crisis as a “well-managed hybrid attack,” it is crucial to acknowledge the numerous human rights violations that occurred during the period. Individuals’ rights were infringed upon both at border crossings, where they were turned away, and within Lithuania, where fundamental rights and freedoms were withheld from non-nationals for an extended duration–amongst them, children.