IWB for refugees: Lithuania

Summary of the national legislation on refugees

Is the country following all the European/ International legislation on this matter?

Since 2000, Lithuania applies a unified asylum granting procedure, in the course of which a refugee status or subsidiary protection can be granted. Lithuania uses a wider list of reasons for subsidiary protection other than defined in Directive 2004/83/EC. Besides reasons mentioned in the Directive, Lithuania may grant subsidiary protection if there is danger that rights and basic freedoms of asylum seeker would be infringed.

The provisions of the legislation of the Republic of Lithuania in this field are broadly consistent with the requirements of the international and European Union documents and provisions.

The main legal document on the refugee issue in Lithuania is The Republic of Lithuania Law on The Legal Status of Aliens, 2004.

Refugee life in Lithuania

  • Number of people with a refugee status (give or take)?

496 asked, 24 – refugee status, 153 – subsidiary protection (2014 data)

  • Top 5 countries they are coming from? (2014 data)
  • Georgia
  • Afghanistan
  • Ukraine
  • Russia
  • Vietnam
  • Top 3 reasons for which they left their country of origin?

Refugee status is granted to an asylum applicant who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, citizenship, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his citizenship and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country or who, not having a citizenship and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. Subsidiary protection in the Republic of Lithuania is granted to the applicant for asylum who is outside the borders of his/her country of origin and cannot return due to entirely reasonable fear that: 1) S/he will be tortured, subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; 2) There is a threat that s/he will be imposed capital punishment or execution; 3) His/her life, health, safety or freedom is under threat as a result of indiscriminate violence which emerged during an international or internal armed conflict. The 3 main reasons will be better defined after the interviews.

  • How much state allowance does a refugee receive a month?

During the integration period at The Refugees Reception Centre, foreigners seeking asylum receive 71 EUR for food and basic living expenses. During the integration period at the Municipality, refugees receive financial support to cover basic living expenses (rent, public utilities, food, transportation, etc.). Monthly allowance depends on the family composition: 1 person receives 265,2 EUR; family of 2 – 326,4 EUR; family of 3 people 489,6 EUR; if the family is bigger than 3 people they get 61,2 EUR more for each additional person.

  • What are the living conditions of refugees (for example housing)?

In the Municipality, the activity of refugees is guided by a curator. The curator helps to buy basic furniture and house-hold items, to find and rent apartments, pay financial allowances, organizes Lithuanian language courses, children education, provides support to access the labour market, consults the refugee on all relevant questions.

  • Are refugees offered language lessons?

Lithuanian language courses are organized for adults during the integration period in the Refugee Reception Centre. Language courses are provided to each refugee for a total of 190 hours (approximately 2 hours/day). Once the language courses are completed, the refugee has the possibility to take the first level (A1) exam. An additional 100 hours may be provided to re-take the exam for those who failed to pass the exam, if the failure was caused by valid reasons (i. e. psychiatric disorder, learning difficulties, etc.)

  • Are they people with an official refugee status allowed to work? If yes, is there assistance for finding employment?

Refugees are required to register at the Labour Exchange. At the Refugees Reception Centre refugees are introduced to employment opportunities. They receive professional orientation courses and consultations, if needed, professional training is organized. Qualification is recognized upon the presentation of relevant documents. Once the refugee starts living at the Municipality, he/she can contact Employment Office and participate in activities related to active employment policies. Asylum seekers have no right to access the labour market.

  • Do legal refugees have the right to work immediately or only after a certain period of time?

Refugees have the right to start working immediately once they receive refugee status.

  • Is there a maximum amount of time that a refugee can stay in the country in which it seeks asylum? Also receiving a legal refugee status?

There is no time limit for an officially recognized refugee.

  • Do refugees or their children have the right to attend schools, universities, etc?

Yes, refugees do have the right to attend schools, vocational training schools, universities or other educational institutions.

  • Is the state obliged to provide asylum seekers with healthcare?

In the Refugee Reception Centre, medical assistance is available 9.5 hours/week. Psychological counselling is available to refugees for a total of 7 hours/week in the Refugee Reception Centre. As of October 2013, all beneficiaries of international protection, including those granted subsidiary protection, are covered by the compulsory health insurance scheme and have full access to medical services on the same conditions and under the same procedure as nationals.

  • Do refugees experience obstacles with regard to issues like social life, personal well being, freedom, etc? Please illustrate briefly.

During the integration period, refugees have the right to receive: – A lump sum child birth allowance: 1,430 LTL (± 414 €); – A burial allowance. Following the death of a refugee, this allowance is to be paid to the deceased refugee’s family members or person(s) who has buried the refugee: 1,040 LTL (± 301 €); – A monthly allowance for a child below 3 years, if the child does not attend kindergarten: 97,5 LTL (± 28 €), – A monthly allowance to meet the basic needs: 245 LTL (± 71 €). The environment in Refugee Reception Centre (the isolated location and the proximity to a military training camp) does not facilitate rehabilitation from trauma and prevent the refugees from taking full advantage of the available integration support. The environment and location, coupled with the limited financial allowance is not enough to cover food, other basic necessities and public transportation, leaving the refugees feeling very isolated from the rest of the society, and compelled to live in striking poverty. Due to the physical isolation the refugees can experience mental isolation that affect not only social integration, their motivation and spirit and their recovery from trauma, but also language learning and job and house searching.

The legal process

Describe the legal process of acquiring a refugee status, from the moment of entering the country of refugee as an asylum seeker until the point of receiving a legal refugee status. Foreigners not later than 24 hours after entering the country have to present an application (either verbally or in a written form) for asylum at the State border crossing point of the Republic of Lithuania, city (district) territorial police services or Foreigners’ Registration Centre (Pabradė, Švenčionys district). Civil servants of the aforementioned institutions immediately interview the asylum seeker, take his/her available personal, travel or other documents, take his/her fingerprints and take his/her photo. The asylum application and other related documents are sent to the Migration Department. A dactylography card is sent to the Criminal Expertise Centre which is a designated national EURODAC unit to transfer fingerprint data to the Central EURODAC Unit. The Migration Department shall no later than within 48 hours from the moment of lodging of the asylum application to take one of the following decisions:

  1. a) to consider the asylum application on its merits by means of general procedure, to  grant temporary asylum and issue a foreigner’s registration certificate.
  2. b) to determine that another EU Member State is responsible for the examination of an application, not to consider the application on its merits, to grant temporary asylum and issue a foreigner’s registration certificate.
  3. c) not to grant temporary asylum, not to consider the asylum application on its merits, to send the asylum seeker back to a safe third country.
  4. d) not to grant temporary territorial asylum, not to grant asylum, to deport the asylum seeker from the Republic of Lithuania.

In taking this decision, the term of 48 hours, during which the Migration Department must decide, may be extended to 72 hours from the moment of lodging the asylum application. Such  asylum application shall be considered on its merits by means of an urgent procedure; it shall be applied, if a foreigner arrived from a safe origin country and, if the asylum application by a foreigner is a manifestly unfounded asylum application. The procedure of urgent consideration of an asylum application shall not be applicable to asylum seekers who are unaccompanied minors. The Migration Department has the right to take charge of an asylum seeker passed over from another EU Member State, if it is identified that the Republic of Lithuania is responsible for the consideration of asylum application. In such cases, asylum applications shall be considered on their merits in the Republic of Lithuania. An asylum seeker whose asylum application is considered on its merits by general procedure is accommodated in the Foreigners Registration Centre. Asylum seekers-unaccompanied minors are accommodated in the Refugee Reception Centre. The Migration Department decides on the accommodation of the asylum seeker, if there are no reasons for which the asylum seeker would be subject to any restrictions on the freedom of movement within the country. The issue of a foreigner’s freedom of movement shall be considered by the court which may apply detention or a measure alternative to detention in accordance with Article 113-115 of the Law on Legal Status of Foreigners. An asylum seeker who legally arrives in the country and can afford to settle in Lithuania at his own expense, by decision of the Migration Department may be permitted to settle in the chosen place of residence. An asylum application is considered by general procedure within the period of 3 months which for objective reasons may be extended for three more months. A decision on granting (non-granting) of asylum is taken by the Migration Department. This decision may be the following:

  • to grant refugee status and issue a permanent residence permit;
  • not to grant refugee status, provide subsidiary protection, and issue a temporary residence permit;
  • not to grant asylum, issue a temporary residence permit;
  • not to grant asylum, to deport the asylum seeker from Lithuania.

The decision of the Migration Department may be appealed against at Vilnius Regional Administrative Court within 14 days from the day of service of the decision. The court, after examination the complaint, may satisfy it and oblige the Migration Department to review its decision. The court may also deny the complaint. During the examination of this complaint in the court the foreigner has the right to the free of charge legal assistance.

Interviews

        Our group of Social policy students visited Cultural Institution of Pabrade Center and Lithuanian Red Cross Society. The main reasons of our visits were to get information about a situation of migrants in Lithuania, also to communicate face to face with people who live in these organizations. Immigrants told about the challenges they have faced in their homeland, explained what they think about living in Lithuania and compared their home countries with the Baltic state. It was a quite interesting experience because it became easier to realize the real situation from migrants not from media. Sometimes it looks that Lithuanian media tries to submit a negative opinion of migrants who came here.

For the first interview we chose Cultural Institution of Pabrade Center. The specialists from this institution gave their time for an interview and made it possible to meet with their clients. To talk with us agreed the people from different countries – Syria and Ukraine. During the interview they were a little bit nervous but still decided to share their experiences and future plans. The first talker was a man from Syria who said that the main reason why he left his home and decided to move to Lithuania was a war. Also, the positive opinion about the migrants in Lithuania was an important reason too. In his own words, at the border of state and in the other places of Lithuania, officers treated him very kindly, warmly interacted. Syrian went to the Center of Refugees where he formalized his documents. In addition, he didn’t face any serious problems but said that a lot of aspects depend on the individual persons. When our group asked him to describe the situation in his country, the Syrian mentioned a political turmoil, also he added that his children and wife stayed in Syria. He hopes that one day they will see each other. One of the questions was about his future plans. The migrant once again responded very nicely about Lithuania, especially about the capital city – Vilnius. “The Lithuanians are very friendly people, there are created good conditions to live in. I want to open my own restaurant in the future because in Syria I worked as chef”, – he said. Despite the fact, that the majority of his family live in Germany or Syria, he doesn’t want to leave our country.

The second migrant who decided to give the interview for us was a man from Ukraine. He left his country due to the war. Talking about the situation in Ukraine, he was very shocked and even couldn’t explain what’s happening in his homeland. Before leaving his country, the man didn’t know where to go. Lithuania was a random choice. In this country other people received him friendly, he didn’t suffer any aggression. “Damn, it’s really crazy experience”, – he described his feelings in these words. The Ukrainian mentioned that he almost knows nothing about the situation in Ukraine. His whole family moved to Germany. At the end on interview, the man responded really kindly about Lithuania, he thinks about the future, studies and job. He enjoyed that now he lives like a normal citizen, without fair. The migrant dreams to bring his family in Lithuania and live together again.

For the second part of our interview, we decided to open a conversation with people who work in the Cultural Institution of Pabrade Center. They described their routine schedule, told us about the reasons why they decided to work this job and other important aspects. One of the workers mentioned that “Caritas” is very friendly organization, that’s why for both groups of people (for migrants and social workers) every single day is quite enjoyable. Nature of work with a specific group such as asylum seekers, partly enriching social workers understanding of the essence of social work and cultural knowledge. A staff daily meet with different nationalities of people until it’s approved or rejected his asylum seeker’s request. Talk to them – very interesting experience because they come very close, don’t trust people. Some attitude to Lithuania is even tragic but quickly changed in a positive direction. The first impression consists of officials who take them to the border. Seeing how officials behave with newcomers, they give the impression of an entire nation. The main reason why the social workers decided to work this kind of job – the opportunity to help another people. As the underlying problem of migrants’ policy in Lithuania, they identified the state border guards’ unwillingness to accept people. The negative attitude of officials towards migrants, lack of knowledge and little expertise is a major problem. An employee thinks that another big problem is the conditions in which refugees live. Compared with Western countries, they differ radically. At the same time children live with detainees, they see outgoing conflicts. The employee mentioned that exists a wide range of opinions about migrants in Lithuania. The integration process into society is way easier for foreigners who fluently speak Russian. On the other hand, the persons who speak English are considered to be reliable and hard-working people, they can live as full members of society. After indoor repair, it became more comfortable to spend time for migrants. The biggest problems that they face, identify the lack of money, limited access to lawyers and the uncertainty about the asylum. While waiting for approval of the migration service, they don’t have the opportunity to work, unlike refugees in other European Union countries, such as Germany or UK.

After visiting the Cultural Institution of Pabrade Center, we went to the Lithuanian Red Cross Society, which lawyer kindly agreed to help and answered to the questions. The lawyer said that in the organization work a variety of professionals in their fields: social workers, layers, psychologists. The main task of social workers – individual work with the refugees, in order to better adapt them in Lithuania. The lawyers properly prepare the documents in order to give the people emigrated refugee status. The refugees also receive an advice on important issues. Upon receipt of refugee status, the people can engage in job search, it opens up the possibility of a wider market. The Lithuanian Red Cross Society perform monitoring at the border of state. Talking about her casual work day, a woman mentioned that often the morning starts at the reception center, which provides legal advice to asylum seekers. The lawyer welcomed the successful representation of the previous year in the court. Currently, in Lithuania are just three asylum seekers who are detained. The main reason of migrants’ arrest – an attempt to escape to another country. One of the detainees – Afghan, who wanted to go to Germany, where his family settled. It’s believed that the person who tried to escape from the state, will try to do it once more. They were immediately transferred to a detention center. The refugees live in detention principle.

According to the lawyer, her schedule is quite varied and full of new experiences. It’s interesting to meet with people of different nationalities, with whom nice to talk not only on legal issues but also to share life experiences. The woman mentioned that she faces the situation when the migrant is asking for a refugee status. During this process, she must prepare legal documents in order to give a social protection. When we asked her what nationality of people usually have the right to live in Lithuania, without citizen status documents, she identified Gypsies. As a separate category of people she mentioned that part of them didn’t configure their documents during the Lithuanian independence period. These people are mostly in rural areas, most of them – enough elderly.

The lawyer said that many people who come to Lithuania – see the future in our country: they want to study or create their own business. One of the main goals of refugees – to bring their families and loved ones. “They want to live a normal life like the all Lithuanian citizens”, – that’s how the worker described the basic of refugees. Talking about the changes in the organization, the lawyer identified an increase in workers’ collective, which makes it easier to overcome the challenges it faces. She mentioned that Lithuanian society’s attitude is changing into a positive way. State agencies draw attention to the NVO. “I’m happy that a lot of people in Lithuania think positive about the migrants integration into society” – at the end of interview she said.

            Tautvydas Pangonis, Aistė Leišytė, Agnė Laginauskaitė and Arnas Arlauskas – Social policy students at Vilnius university

Description of what happens if they do not receive the refugee status

On the basis of legislation in Lithuania rejected asylum seekers and irregular immigrants can be expelled or ordered to leave the country voluntarily. Aliens have the possibility to use the assisted voluntary return (AVR) scheme/ services provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Vilnius office. More information –  http://returnhome.lt/en/

If an alien, rejected asylum seeker refuses to return voluntarily, he has to be treated under the forced return-expulsion scheme. Forced returns are implemented by the State Border Guard Service under the Ministry of Interior.

In recent years, the number of asylum seekers applying/using services of Assisted Voluntary Return is getting rather significant. From January 2010 to December 2014, out of 278 migrants who decided to return voluntarily to their countries of origin, 203 were asylum seekers.

Rita Augutiene, NGO “League of Experts”

Analysis of how the media depicts the refugees in Lithuania

Migrant‘s integration into Lithuanian society. Media

In principle, media in Lithuania responds very negatively about migrants, they include a large number of crimes related to large-scale terrorism, series of attacks against civilians, potentially causing destruction in countries where they are staying. The media forms public opinion about migrants, arguing that newcomers will take away jobs from local people, criminality will also increase. Some media publications consciously incite people distrust of refugees. However, several publications try to make a positive image of migrants: they will create more jobs and the citizens will be able to work in better-paid jobs. The most important aspects in media are these: migrant crisis, crime, increasing the flow of migrants to Europe, creation of new jobs and limitations of social integration. There are two types of articles: positive (new work places, population growth, pension payments) and negative (commotion, migrant crisis, crimes).

Lithuanian media emphasizes four main types of political decisions. The first one is that European countries should accept the proposed number of emigrants within the set quotas. Regulated labor migration is very important factor too. The last two decisions are absorption of migrants by state and facilitates the employment of foreigners in the system. One of the most important aims of articles is to inform the public about the migrant crisis. In this case – to express biased information about refugees caused chaos (Sweden stabbed a young man of Somali social worker, migrant pools sexually harassing women, subway stations refugees offers to buy drugs and etc.) The media reviews the social integration of migrants into society.

Headlines in many cases are really adequate, provocative, triggers reader’s interest. The banners adequacy is determined to ensure the facts. The journalists are not unbiased because they seek to create a negative opinion about refugees. Journalists emphasize their inappropriate behavior. The internet and press are the main media measures in Lithuania.

Tautvydas Pangonis, Aistė Leišytė, Agnė Laginauskaitė and Arnas Arlauskas
Social policy students at Vilnius University

The subjective perspective

      The interviewed migrants responded kindly about the situation of migrants’ in Lithuania. On the other hand, there’s always room for improvement. A conversation with them helped to realize which aspects should be improved of refugees’ policy. It’s important to focus attention on three main aspects: a tolerance of society, the Government decisions and the influence of the media. Public tolerance in Lithuania is a really important factor. More tolerance would help to integrate for migrants in the country easier. Groups in social networks such as “I accept a refugee” (“Priimsiu pabėgėlį“) bring many benefits. With their help, a lot of people offer a wide range of assistance for migrants: donate items or money, provide a free room or help to find a job. The media is a very powerful weapon in spreading tolerance in the country. The major media publications in Lithuania should aim to familiarize the public with the migrants, to publish their live stories and interviews. In this way, the vast majority of Lithuanian society will know what difficulties experienced foreigners and they will be more lenient for them.

In terms of the Government decisions, more determined actions are needed how to solve the refugees’ issue. Parliamentary elections will be held in Lithuania on 9 October 2016. Parties – candidates must submit their refugee reception program. As a negative example we can present the Labour Party (Lithuanian: Darbo Partija). Their election slogan “We will stop the influx of refugees to Lithuania” promotes anti-tolerant approaches. The elections winning party must have a clear plan which would be fair for refugees’ too. Our group suggestions: to determine the exact number of refugees that could be adopted by the country; to take care of border officials’ qualification (many interviewed migrants told us that were the officials who lacked competence); to improve the living conditions for migrants. Also, a very important issue is the integration process to society, in terms of the labor market. The migrants should be entitled the right to get employment. A lot of them want to stay in Lithuania and open their own businesses or start studying. Lithuania must pay more attention to refugees’ employment rates.

In conclusion, the refugee issue will be solved with the winning party program. Our group thinks that the number of migrants won’t increase very radically. However, with European Union funding will be improved the living conditions, there will be more qualified professionals, who could help for migrants. The situation in Lithuania will change into the positive way.

Tautvydas Pangonis, Aistė Leišytė, Agnė Laginauskaitė and Arnas Arlauskas

Students of Social policy

Lithuanialt

Capital: Vilnius
Location: Eastern Europe
EU-member since 2004
Currency: Euro
Population: 2 944 459 (2014 data)
GDP: 8,228 mlrd.  Euros
Min. wage: 300 Euros (since October, 2014)
Poverty line: 250 Euros per person
Population under poverty line: 31 % of the total population

IWB Researchersforwebsite

Ruta Grigaliunaite

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“I am concerned that knowledge and understanding is of basic importance to any human in the world in order to make responsible decisions. I am a part of IWB project because I believe that awareness is the first step towards the more equatable, empathetic and just society”

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on 21 September 2015

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