On July 13, 2021, the Seimas (parliament) of the Republic of Lithuania adopted a law containing multiple amendments (Amending Law) to the country’s Law on the Legal Status of Aliens (Law on Aliens), which Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda signed into law on the same day.
The amending law changed the rules and procedures for seeking asylum in Lithuania, allowing the country’s authorities to deport migrants more speedily and reduce the processing time of asylum applications from several months to 10 days.
Background to the Amendments
Following the regime of sanctions against the Republic of Belarus that the European Union (EU) initiated in September 2020 in response to the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus, which the EU and the West considered fraudulent, and further restrictions imposed by the Council of the EU on June 24, 2021, “to respond to the escalation of serious human rights violations in Belarus and the violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition and journalists, as well as to the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk on May 23, 2021, and the related detention of journalists,” the number of the asylum seekers from African countries and the Middle East arriving in Lithuania from Belarus drastically increased.
On July 6, 2021, the EU leadership accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of “intimidating the EU with migrants,” and on July 12, Lithuanian and EU officials accused Belarus of using illegal migrants as a political weapon to exert pressure on the EU because of the bloc’s sanctions. Lithuania’s minister of foreign affairs, Gabrielius Landsbergis, stated on July 21 that Belarus was using refugees from war-torn countries as “human shields” in an attempt to force the bloc to ease sanctions.
According to a European Commission press release of July 23, 2021, almost 2,100 people had entered Lithuania from Belarus this year, including more than 1,700 people during June and July.
The New Amendments
According to the new amendments, migrants can be detained for up to six months from the day of illegal arrival in Lithuania. (Amending Law art. 1, amending Law on Aliens art. 5, para. 8.) The new law states that a migrant’s appearance without authorization at a border crossing point, in an airport transit zone, or inside Lithuanian territory near the border does not constitute legal presence in Lithuania for immigration purposes. Admission decisions on migrants’ requests for political asylum must be made within 48 hours.
The newly adopted amendments limit the period during which asylum seekers can appeal the rejection of their asylum application. An applicant can request administrative review of the rejection decision by the Migration Department within seven days after the decision has been made. Applicants must be informed about the results of the review process within the next seven days, and they have one week to appeal the administrative decision rejecting their asylum application in a local administrative court. The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania is the final appeal instance. The law states that an appeal does not stop the execution of a Migration Department decision, which must be enforced immediately, and migrants can be deported while their appeals are being considered. (Amending Law ch. IX(1), art. 135(1), amending Law on Aliens art. 140, para. 4.1.; Amending Law arts. 3(1) & 8, amending Law on Aliens art. 5.)
While a simplified admission procedure, easier border-crossing rules, and expedited issuance of a temporary residence permit are applicable to those who are recognized as individuals with high professional qualifications (Amending Law art. 1), migrants who have entered Lithuania illegally or during a declared state of emergency are prohibited from leaving their designated place of residence, which includes tent camps set up to accommodate migrants (Amending Law arts. 1 & 2, amending Law on Aliens art. 5, paras. 6, 7, 8).In addition, the new legislation restricts some rights of migrants when the government declares a state of emergency or an emergency due to a mass influx of aliens. (Amending Law arts. 3, 4, 6 & 9, amending Law on Aliens arts. 76(6), 113 & 135, para. 9.)