More than 4,100 immigrants from the Middle East or Central Africa have arrived in Lithuania illegally since the beginning of the year.
The JowharObservers team was contacted by a Cameroonian who crossed the border from Belarus before being arrested and placed in an open field by the Lithuanian authorities. He says the Baltic country is trying to force migrants to return to their countries of origin.
“They have put bars everywhere, as if we were prisoners.” This is how Marc (not his real name), a Cameroonian, describes the center where he is staying now: an old stadium in the town of Linkmenys, about 100 km from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.
In videos sent to the JowharObservers team on September 15, Marc shows his folding bed in a room where the windows are covered with metal bars. Other men sleep in the same room, some in bunk beds.
“We dry the clothes inside,” he says, filming the wet clothes drying. In the bathroom, there are pools of standing water on the tiles, which are black with dirt. The toilets are locked and a full to overflowing garbage can is waiting to be emptied “for two days.”
“Of course, we came to the country illegally, but do we deserve to live in these conditions?” Marc asked in a voicemail.
‘My goal was to enter any country in the Schengen area’
Marc’s migration journey was long and complex. The 28-year-old Cameroonian left his country in 2016 for security reasons. Then he lived in various African countries. Once in Morocco, he tried to cross the Mediterranean.
Marc, who hopes to eventually apply for asylum in France, decided to try a different route. He says that he first bought a visa for Russia and then traveled to Belarus. It was from this country, often called the last dictatorship in Europe, that he illegally crossed the border into Lithuania in July, his entry into the European Union.
In Belarus, I took a taxi that dropped me 200 meters from the border. I took my phone and walked alone in the woods for five days. My goal was to enter any country in the Schengen area. When I crossed the border, the police caught me. First they took me to a military camp where the doctors examined us and vaccinated us against Covid-19. Then they sent me to this center.
I am the only Cameroonian here; the other immigrants come from the Middle East or Afghanistan. I know there are Africans in other camps. But they didn’t have the same trip as me; most of them came here after having been students in Belarus.
>> More information on InfoMigrants: ‘I don’t know what to do now’: African students in Lithuania trapped after crossing from Belarus
Photo of one of the meals served to migrants at the Linkmenys center. Submitted by our observer in September 2021. © Observers
In total, 4,124 people have entered Lithuania illegally since the beginning of the year. Almost half of them came from Iraq, traveling from Baghdad to Minsk by plane and then crossing the border on foot. On August 6, following pressure from Europe, the Iraqi authorities announced the temporary suspension of flights to Belarus.
According to figures from the Lithuanian Interior Ministry in August, 200 migrants were from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 131 from Cameroon, the other two most common nationalities after Iraqis.
This wave of migration is a new phenomenon in Lithuania, a small country of 2.7 million people bordering Poland, Latvia and Belarus. In 2020, there were only 74 irregular arrivals and only 37 the year before.
The government, beginning to worry about an “alarming” migratory influx, has announced that it will build a wall along the border and has accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of allowing migrants to cross the border as revenge for US sanctions. the EU after his government. diverted a flight to arrest a political dissident.
Migrants who had already arrived in the country were sent to camps housed in former schools or military bases during the summer.
While awaiting responses to asylum applications, the migrants have been sent to camps at former schools and military bases that were hastily established over the summer.
>> Read more about InfoMigrantes: ‘No one will answer our questions’: Migrants in Lithuanian camps wait in uncertainty
‘They come to ask us: “Are you ready to go back to your country?”
Marc says that the conditions in the center where he is staying are like “a prison.”
We are currently 33 at the center. It is a prison. I didn’t think they would treat us like this. We can never go outside to see the light of day. I applied for asylum as soon as I arrived but I have not heard anything. There have already been tensions with the police over all this.
In mid-August, 200 migrants received a response to their asylum application, all of them negative. Deputy Interior Minister Arnoldas Abramavicius told InfoMmigration that “all people who need protection can apply for asylum” in Lithuania and that “every application [will be] individually examined “.
He also said that asylum applications would be dealt with more quickly, due to the recent hiring of experts and interpreters. The government also expects some voluntary departures, for which the migrants will receive “a free plane ticket and € 300 in cash.”
But for many immigrants, including Marc, this proposal is unimaginable.
They are pressuring people to return voluntarily: when the agents enter the center, it is not to ask us about our living conditions, but to ask us: “Have you decided to return to your country?” After all this trip … it is absolutely frustrating.