Social Issues

5 Afghans seek asylum in Lithuania, defying closed borders

Riga, Latvia, Sep 15 (EFE).- Five men who say they are from Afghanistan will be allowed to apply for asylum in Lithuania despite entering the country illegally, Rokas Pukinskas, a spokesman for the Lithuanian Border Guard service confirmed to EFE Wednesday.

Local media said that the five Afghans were taken to a temporary camp for irregular migrants. Pukinskas said they would be tested for Covid-19 and quarantined there.

In an interview with the news website, one of the five said the men had entered Lithuania on September 5, before being sent back and forth by guards on both sides of the border. They then got in touch with a Lithuanian lawyer who brought their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The ECHR issued an emergency ruling Wednesday saying the Afghans had to be given a chance to apply for asylum in Lithuania, noting that Belarus, where the men apparently entered the Baltic country from, was not a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Lithuanian officials confirmed early Wednesday afternoon that the Afghans had formally applied for asylum.

It is not clear from local reports how the Afghans, who said they were “westernized” and feared living under the Taliban, made it from Afghanistan to Belarus.

Under pressure from the European Union, airlines serving the Belarus capital Minsk from Iraq have stopped flights that brought more than 4 000 irregular migrants, mainly Iraqis, to Lithuania’s neighbor.

As of the middle of August, when Lithuania declared an emergency and pushed back border crossers and took asylum applications only at official crossing points, there were only 83 Afghans listed among the irregular border crossers held in camps in various parts of Lithuania.

Neighboring Latvia, which also shares a border with Belarus, has taken in around 400 irregular border crossers from Belarus before effectively closing its frontier and banning reporters from accessing the area.

Unlike Lithuania, which allows people to apply for asylum at official border crossings, Latvia has completely suspended the right to seek asylum under its border area emergency. But, for humanitarian reasons, it has admitted a small number who were “trapped” at the border, including pregnant women, those with small children and people who had fallen ill.

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