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Lithuania Legalizes Migrant Pushbacks

Lithuania’s parliament passed legislation Tuesday to make it legal to deny entry to asylum seekers, the EU member’s latest move to fight illegal immigration from Belarus to the dismay of rights activists.

The Baltic state had already been engaging in so-called pushbacks since 2021, when thousands of migrants and refugees — mainly from the Middle East and Africa — began trying to enter the European Union via Lithuania, Latvia and Poland.

The EU argued that the influx was a “hybrid attack” orchestrated by the Belarusian regime in retaliation for international sanctions against Minsk.

The number of attempted crossings has since fallen, but Lithuanian border guards still deny entry to up to several dozen migrants a day.

“When it comes to national security and human rights, there are no easy solutions, but also there are no alternatives,” Lithuanian Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite told journalists.

“Our country must defend itself,” she added.

Bilotaite said authorities had intel that Belarus was negotiating new direct flight routes to Minsk with Iran and Iraq, which suggested “possible new [migrant] flows.”

“We have to be ready and we need instruments,” she said.

Last week, Amnesty International warned that the law would “green-light torture.”

The legislation still requires approval by the president and activists said they would call for a veto.

“These amendments are against both international law and our own commitments,” Jurate Juskaite, the head of Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights, told AFP.

“They are immoral, they endanger the life and health of the people trying to enter,” she added.

Last year, Lithuania finished building a four-meter razor wire fence along the border with Belarus to tackle illegal immigration.

It spans around 550 kilometers, while the entire border is nearly 700 kilometers long.

Neighboring Poland has also regularly resorted to pushbacks at its border with Belarus in recent years.

The controversial action is allowed under Polish law — through an interior ministry decree and the foreigners act — though in two separate cases, courts found it had violated refugee rights.