African women protest discrimination and poor conditions at Lithuanian migrant camp

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Tensions are mounting in the Medininkai migrant camp in Lithuania. A group of asylum seekers, mostly African women, tried to walk through a camp gate on October 26 to protest the conditions of detention. The guards, aided by the police, responded with tear gas. The AXADLETM Observer team spoke to a Congolese woman from the camp who said she and others believed the guards were offering preferential treatment to Iraqi women detained in the same camp.

The protest began early on October 26 when a group of African women gathered outside a doorway chanting “Liberty” (freedom). The women mobilized after an altercation between an African migrant and an Iraqi migrant in the camp, according to witnesses we contacted via WhatsApp.

Gathered in front of a camp gate, migrant women chant “Freedom!” On October 26, 2021.

Tensions escalated later in the evening, when police officers sprayed tear gas at migrants trying to get through a door. Video and audio testimonies shared on WhatsApp explain the anger of the migrants: they had received expired basic necessities and, above all, were discriminated against by the camp guards.

Video of Lithuanian policeman spraying tear gas at Medininkai camp, October 26, 2021.

“One of the girls was not allowed to see her father who had come to visit her. Clotilde (not her real name), a migrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo has been in Medininkai camp for three months.

We live in containers. Single women, single men and families live in separate blocks. As a single woman, I live with other single African women, but also with Iraqi women. So we live with Iraqi women every day and things are generally going well.

However, many African women accused the Lithuanian police of creating tension with Iraqi women by favoring them over us. Many Africans complain that Iraqis receive regular visits from relatives, while requests for visits from Africans are rarely granted.

On the night of October 26, one of the girls complained that she was not allowed to see her father, who had come to visit her. The guards only allowed him to leave a package for his daughter. When Iraqi women are visited by relatives, the guards let them enter the containers. They can touch and kiss. This inevitably creates frustration in others who have not seen their loved ones.

But there are other reasons for anger. A few days ago, the guards distributed expired sanitary napkins, and we regularly receive expired food items, including yogurt and chocolate.

I think beyond the living conditions here, people are also annoyed by the prolonged confinement, the lack of space and the lack of leisure activities.

Personally, I have been living locked up in the camp since August. My asylum application was rejected. In fact, everyone was denied their asylum claim except for two Eritrean women.

All we’re asking for while waiting here is a little freedom. To get out of the camp from time to time, go shopping, get some fresh air.

Almost 300 women live in Medininkai camp, 40 km from the capital Vilnius. Many of those who, like Clotilde, have had their asylum application rejected, are appealing the decision.

>> Watch our full report: Migrants trapped at Belarusian-Poland border call for help via videos, GPS coordinates

Since the summer, Lithuania has seen an unprecedented influx of migrants: more than 4,000 people, half of them Iraqis, have entered the country illegally from neighboring Belarus. Lithuania, like neighboring Poland, is worried about these arrivals and has started to build a fence on its border with Belarus.

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