Vilnius, 16th September 2022: Asylum seekers and migrants, including families with young children, are being subjected to repeated pushbacks between the borders of Lithuania and Belarus with little to no access to basic needs or fair asylum procedures. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is appalled by the medical humanitarian impact of Lithuania’s hostile migration policies on people on the move, as well as the use of inhumane practices such as pushbacks in response to people seeking safety.
There have been numerous instances of Lithuanian authorities forcibly returning migrants and refugees to Belarus, resulting in the breach of their rights. The Lithuanian State Border Guard Service (SBGS) publicly claim to have carried out thousands of pushbacks at the border since the start of the year.
Some people have told MSF of being repeatedly pushed back and forth across the border over days, or even weeks.
“For 30 days, we didn’t settle in one place. We went back and forth around 10 times between Belarus and Lithuania during that time. The guards kept moving us in and out, in and out, and back and forth. Once we were captured, we were given some tinned food which was expired and dry. I couldn’t even eat that, as I kept it for my children. Then they would put us back in cars and take us back to the border. It was a cat and mouse situation. I was traumatised and I just wished to go anywhere there was shelter so it would put an end to our suffering,” one woman told MSF.
Such repeat pushbacks compound the distress and trauma faced by migrants and asylum seekers at the borders of the European Union.
Fear of being detected and pushed back is also leading people on the move in Lithuania to try and cross isolated areas with no access to basic needs and medical aid. MSF medical teams in Lithuania have treated people for skin and lower limb conditions developed after walking long distances through forests and swamps, as well as exhausted families and individuals who have slept exposed to the elements, often without adequate clothing and footwear.
MSF teams are aware of people who have contracted gastrointestinal illnesses after being forced to eat berries and plants and drink swamp water out of hunger, thirst and desperation.
As winter approaches, MSF is alarmed about even more serious consequences for the physical and mental health of people subjected to such mistreatment.
Lithuania’s hostile migration policies are yet another example of an EU member state deliberately creating unsafe conditions for people to seek asylum at its borders. People will continue to make desperate journeys to where they believe they can seek international protection, safety and a better future, regardless of the risks or lack of welcome they will face, and despite the lack of safe and legal routes. The Lithuanian government must not continue with such abusive responses to vulnerable people seeking safety at its borders.