The Lithuanian parliament approved a new law on Tuesday that gives authorities the power to push illegal migrants back across the border during a state of emergency.
The amendments proposed by the Lithuanian government to the country’s Law on the State Border and Protection were passed by 86 votes to eight, with 20 abstentions. They will enter into force on May 3, subject to Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda signing off on them.
It has been reported that the Baltic state has been exercising migrant pushbacks on its border with Belarus for some time after accusing the Lukashenko regime of orchestrating “hybrid warfare” by facilitating migratory routes through his country into the European Union to cause social unrest.
“When it comes to national security and human rights, there are no easy solutions, but there are also no alternatives,” Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite told reporters.
“Our country must defend itself,” she added.
Lithuania to enshrine push-back measures against illegal migrants into law
Estonia and Finland, which both share borders with Russia, are reportedly drafting similar legislation
Bilotaite has accused Minsk of recently agreeing to new direct flights from the Middle East to the Belarusian capital, a move Lithuania fears will spark further migratory pressure along its eastern border.
“We have to be ready and we need instruments,” she said, defending the Lithuanian government’s decision to enshrine into law practices many human rights groups deem to be unacceptable and illegal.
“By passing this law, Lithuania has set itself on a collision course with EU law and the EU Court of Justice, which has already censured the member state over previous legislation,” Amnesty International said in a statement condemning the move.
The new powers will enable border guards to turn illegal migrants back to where they entered Lithuania from in certain circumstances. For example, the practice can only be used during a state of emergency declared by the government regarding an influx of illegal immigration.
Migrants must also have been detected and be situated no further than 5 kilometers from the border.
Lithuania completes construction of border fence with Belarus to deter illegal immigration
The border fence stretches approximately 502 kilometers and is 4 meters high
Pushbacks were used regularly by countries situated at the European Union’s external border last year as many struggled to cope with the influx of new arrivals and often complained about the lack of central support from Brussels in tackling the crisis.
A report by a Belgian NGO published last month claimed that 225,533 pushbacks occurred along the bloc’s external border in 2022. Lithuania alone has reportedly prevented over 20,000 illegal entries into the country from Belarus since August 2021 when the government gave the green light to border police to protect the border at any cost.
The European Union has long been critical of member states exercising pushbacks and has taken legal action against Hungary for the practice in recent years.
“Pushbacks are clearly illegal. People have the right to apply for asylum,” Ylva Johansson, the EU’s commissioner for home affairs said in January.