“I was detained for months, like a prisoner,” says African migrant in Lithuania

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More than 4,200 migrants, mostly Iraqis, crossed illegally from Belarus to Lithuania in 2021, an unprecedented situation in this small country of the European Union. Lithuanian authorities have sent migrants to hastily built reception centers, where many remain in limbo. This is the case with our Observer, who made a point of making his situation known to the world.

More than 4,200 people crossed the border between Belarus and Lithuania illegally in 2021, compared to just 74 in 2020. Of these migrants, the majority – 2,797 – come from Iraq. The second most common country of origin is Congo Brazzaville (200), followed by Cameroon (131). Lithuanian border forces also reported preventing another 8,000 people from crossing the border this year.

Most Iraqis obtained tourist visas and flew from Baghdad to Belarus before continuing their journey to Lithuania on foot. Most Africans who entered Lithuania illegally this summer had already been living in Belarus for some time, if not years, on student visas.

Overwhelmed by this unprecedented wave of migration, Lithuania – a small EU country with just 2.7 million inhabitants – has started building a fence along its border with Belarus. The country has also opened a number of special reception centers, some of them built in old schools, to accommodate the large number of undocumented migrants arrested by the authorities. Some of these migrants have been trapped there for months.

“We sleep in sea containers, which each house up to four people”Tshetshe (assumed name) is from a French-speaking African country. He was trapped in a center in the village of Medininkai, located just two kilometers from the Belarusian border.

He asked to remain anonymous as Lithuanian authorities attempt to restrict migrants’ communications due to the ongoing state of emergency caused by the flow of migrants crossing the Belarusian border.

I was studying at a Belarusian university since 2018. At the beginning of July, I decided to cross the border with Lithuania. I was arrested by the Lithuanian border police, near the border, and then I was sent to this reception center in Verebiejai, in a former school.

Then, two or three months later, I was transferred to the Medininkai center, where I am still being held, as a prisoner.

The center is divided into five parts, which are separated by fences covered with tarpaulin. Two of the sections are reserved for men. The other three are home to women, children and homosexuals. Overall, there are around 800 people here, most of whom are Iraqis. [Editor’s note: This estimate corresponds with numbers provided by the border patrol in September].We sleep in shipping containers that can accommodate up to four people each. Nearby is a building that houses a training program for border guards.

Here we are running out of soap. On December 22, we received some from the Red Cross, along with shampoo and toothbrushes. It was the first time they had come to the camp in a few weeks.

As for water, I buy 5 liter bottles from a mobile store that comes twice a week. Other people drink water from taps, but I am not sure of the quality.

Sometimes the water is cold in the showers all day. Even though it is currently around -10 ° C (equivalent to around 14 ° F).

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© {{scope.credits}} ‘We end up staying awake all night because our sleep is disturbed’ We often stay awake all night and then sleep from 6am to 3 or 4pm because our sleep is disturbed. For example, I used to have classes all day before, but here I don’t really have any activity so I have trouble sleeping at night.

The only activity planned for the adults retained here are the English lessons, which they started offering about three weeks ago. The teacher is a Cameroonian who is also detained.

Apart from that, we watch videos and read things on the internet, we pray… but there is no wifi in the center, so we have to find a way to buy data. We would like to take Lithuanian lessons, but they only offer it for children.

It’s not just that there is nothing to be done. We are also faced with a lot of uncertainties, which makes us constantly worried.

Also, people here are quick to get angry, not least because the border guards tend to disrespect us. They call us “criminals” or “thugs” for no reason. Before, I thought Lithuania was advanced in terms of human rights, but I don’t think so anymore.

Less than 2% of asylum requests accepted Like many migrants trapped in Lithuania, Tshetshe applied for asylum but was refused. He says he challenged the decision. Lithuania only accepted 54 out of 3,272 asylum applications, which is less than 2%. About 610 people contested the rejection of their candidacy.

Lithuania recently started offering migrants € 1,000 and the cost of the plane ticket to return to their country of origin. Previously, they offered migrants € 300. To date, a total of 345 people have accepted voluntary eviction.

Migrants could be detained for up to 12 months On December 23, the Lithuanian parliament approved several amendments that allow foreign nationals to be detained for up to 12 months, especially when the country is in a state of emergency, such as is currently the case. .

Even before the amendments, the law stipulated that migrants were to be held in detention for six months after arriving in Lithuania. Now, the length of detention could be extended for another six months if their asylum application is rejected and they have not been deported within the first six months.

Besides Lithuania, thousands of migrants have also crossed the border from Belarus to Poland and Latvia since this summer. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is accused of orchestrating this influx of migrants into the EU to punish the bloc for the sanctions he imposed on Belarus.

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