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28th Feb 2024

Frontex documents 'collective expulsion' in Lithuania

  • EU home affairs commissioner Johansson (r) visited Lithuania in August (Photo: European Union)
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At least 14 reports of collective expulsions in Lithuania have been lodged by officers from the EU's border agency, Frontex, said a rights watchdog.

"To my knowledge, now I think there are at least 14 serious incidents reports," said Katarzyna Wencel, a Frontex fundamental rights monitor.

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Wencel made her comments on Thursday (7 October) at an event organised by Brussels-based think tank, the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). She said the reports indicated: "practices of collective expulsions, which is, which is I think the most problematic."

"Frontex officers are not directly involved with the so-called redirection of people," she noted.

Collective expulsions of people crossing a border to seek asylum is a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The Warsaw-based agency has 126 officers in Lithuania, with some patrolling the border along Belarus with their Lithuanian counterparts. The European Asylum Support Agency (Easo) is also on the ground.

The agency presence followed almost €37m of EU support to Lithuania, as well as a recent visit by EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson.

The money is aimed to "help improve reception capacity in Lithuania following the exceptional number of people irregularly crossing the Lithuania-Belarus border."

Lithuania had as of mid-August detained over 4,100 people at its border, compared to 81 for the whole of 2020. The spike came as the Minsk regime started shuffling migrants to the border with Lithuania, Latvia, and then Poland.

Lithuania also made legislative changes over the summer allowing authorities to dismiss asylum claims and drive people back to the border without reviewing individual cases.

In September, the Brussels-based European Council on Refugees and Exiles (Ecre), said that "these legislative changes and practices create preconditions for the collective expulsion of asylum seekers."

Similar expulsions have also been documented in Poland by rights groups, such as Amnesty International.

Polish law professor Tomasz Sieniow, also speaking at the CEPS event, likewise accused Poland of collective expulsions. He said people were being denied access to asylum in violation of the Schengen border code.

Others were unknowingly tricked into signing a paper waiving rights to appeal deportations, he added.

The collective expulsions also come amid fresh widespread media revelations of illegal pushbacks in Croatia, Greece, and Romania.

Lighthouse Reports, in a joint investigation with Der Spiegel and others, had over the span of eight months documented a campaign of illegal pushbacks in the three EU states.

They filmed 14 pushback operations, involving at least 42 officers, some of whom were partly financed and equipped from EU budgets.

The European Commission maintains that pushbacks are illegal, demanding national authorities launch investigations.

Similar declarations were made last year when media revelations implicated Frontex in pushbacks along the Greece Turkey border, leading to a European Parliament inquiry.

'Shocking'

Johansson on Thursday described the revelations behind the latest media exposures as shocking.

She said it damaged the reputation of the European Union and "indicates some kind of orchestration of violence at our external borders."

She told reporters she intends to bring up the issue with Greek and Croat interior ministers ahead of Friday's justice and home affairs ministerial meeting.

She noted Croatia has an independent monitoring system that is supposed to make sure rights are respected at the borders.

Greece is also supposed to set one up, but Greek interior minister Notis Mitarachi has so far refused by claiming there are no pushbacks.

Frontex implicated 'to some extent' in violations, says officer

Jonas Grimheden is the EU's border agency Frontex fundamental rights officer. Almost seven months into his job he says the agency "could be seen as being implicated or supportive of fundamental rights violations". His recommendations have yet to be implemented.

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