On 7 July 2022, the Lithuanian Seimas Ombudsperson’s Office released a report assessing the implementation of the rights and liberties of people held in the Medininkai Foreigners' Registration Center (Medininkai FRC). Medininkai FRC houses some of the irregular migrants and asylum seekers who crossed the Lithuanian-Belarusian border in 2021 and were de facto detained.
Prolonged holding of foreigners is tantamount to detention
In her report the Head of Seimas Ombudsperson’s Office noted that according to the current international standards and legal acts in force in the Republic of Lithuania, the conditions of foreigner accommodation in sectors A, B, C, and D of the Medininkai FRC, where people were held for a long time without the right to leave FRC territory freely, were tantamount to degrading treatment. In addition, the nature and degree of actual restrictions imposed on foreigners (for example, accommodation in sectors that would be locked, severe restrictions on freedom of movement within the FRC, and the scope of foreigner surveillance) that have now lasted for more than 10 months qualified as detention.
"Some persons have been held in Medininkai FRC residential container camp for more than 10 months now, not only without the possibility to leave the territory of the Center, but also with extremely limited opportunities to go outside their residential sector. As the Medininkai FRC officers claim themselves, when the playing ball ends up behind the fence surrounding the sector, a foreigner cannot go to pick it up without being accompanied by the officers," noted Erika Leonaitė, the head of the Seimas Ombudsperson’s Office.
Accommodation conditions do not ensure living with dignity
The living conditions in the Medininkai FRC are unsatisfactory for various reasons. Back in the summer of 2021 after more than 4,000 migrants and asylum seekers entered Lithuania over a short period of time, the government decided to accommodate a number of them in three foreigners’ registration centers (settling families with children, unaccompanied minors, and other more vulnerable persons in two refugee reception centers). Because the facilities lacked the infrastructure necessary for such quantities, residential containers for the purposes of temporary accommodation were installed in two FRCs – but, according to the Seimas ombudsperson, the officers interviewed during the visit to the Medininkai FRC admitted that the residential containers installed are not suitable for long-term accommodation.
This resulted in numerous restrictions and shortcomings: the limited power supply means that foreigners are prohibited from owning electrical appliances; the common areas lack furniture, equipment, and various items; the containers used as kitchenettes do not have stoves or sinks (because there is no way to ensure proper power and water supply) and one of the residential sectors lacks sufficient toilets for women. Only people from vulnerable groups live in better material conditions, as, according to the Ombudsperson’s report, they are housed in the border guards' dormitory.
Difficulties for those living and working in the FRC
According to the Seimas Ombudsperson, "poor living conditions certainly cause stress and poor psychological state of persons living in restriction of liberty and uncertainty for a long time. Secondly, the lack of social workers and psychologists result in insufficient attention to the needs of persons held there, and become a serious challenge to the officers, who emphasize their difficult working conditions"
Another significant problem noted was that the FRC does not adequately ensure the right of foreigners living there to submit requests, complaints, and other appeals. "This issue is extremely important as it is one of the measures to prevent arbitrary decisions and situations where a person submitting a request never gets to know the grounds for its rejection," the Ombudsperson emphasized.
The Seimas Ombudsperson together with specialists from the Human Rights Division of the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office carried out their torture prevention monitoring visits in the Medininkai FRC on 24 May and 20 June, 2022.
Update: The Medininkai FRC was closed on 18 August 2022. The people from this centre were moved to the other two FRCs. The official closing of the Medininkai FRC is foreseen in autumn.