Migrants stuck in Lithuania report dismal living conditions: 'We have no hope'
Following a Belarusian policy that attracted thousands of migrants into the country offering them the hope of crossing into the European Union, neighbouring Lithuania has received an unprecedented influx of migrants. Lithuanian authorities have sent these people to hastily built reception centres, where many of them remain in limbo, sometimes for months at a time. The migrants, many of them from Iraq, report living under difficult circumstances in the centres.
Last summer, thousands of migrants tried to enter the European Union – Poland, Latvia and Lithuania – from neighbouring Belarus. Most of them were Iraqis, who arrived by plane in the Belarusian capital Minsk from Baghdad on tourist visas. On the other hand, many Africans had already been living in Belarus for months or even years, often on student visas, when they tried to cross the border.
At the time, the Belarusian president was accused of orchestrating the influx of migrants in retaliation for European sanctions. Overwhelmed by the influx, Lithuania began building a fence on its border. It had also opened detention centres to hold arrested migrants.
Our Observer, a migrant from francophone Africa who spoke to us anonymously, sent us photos and videos of the Medininkai detention centre, located two kilometres from the border with Belarus. He told us that he and other migrants are given little to eat and few hygiene supplies. They are also mistreated by guards and forced to go to their countries' consulates against their will.
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In the centre, we have problems with hygiene. The water we drink is sometimes discoloured. In three months, we have gotten two pieces of soap and one shower gel. Ever since we've been bathing here, we have had skin problems and itching. When there's an emergency and we call the police, they don't come in time. The meals they give us here aren't enough. We've all lost weight and we have no energy. And the cold is really hitting us hard. Sometimes the heating system breaks down. We have insomnia and mental health problems since we've been locked up for such a long time.
Migrants report problems with border guards in the Medininkai detention centre. In the video above, they can be seen entering one of the containers where migrants sleep.
We have problems with the border guards: they are aggressive. They remind us constantly that we aren't welcome in their country.We applied for asylum but we were denied. Our rights are violated because we are deprived of our freedom. We are insulted, we are badly fed, we have no legal assistance. We have no hope.
Only two percent of these migrants' asylum applications have been accepted so far. Our Observer believes that they are not receiving the necessary legal assistance and that Lithuania has not taken the time to examine their cases in depth.
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