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EU/Lithuania: In milestone judgement, EU Court slams automatic detention and denial of asylum

Responding to the Court of Justice of the European Union’s finding today that Lithuanian national law, which orders the automatic detention of people who cross irregularly into the country and effectively denies them the right to asylum, is incompatible with EU laws, Nils Muižnieks, Europe Regional Director of Amnesty International, said:

“The Court of Justice of the European Union today confirmed the conclusions in our latest report on Lithuania, which details the authorities’ flagrant violation of European and international law by not only denying the right to asylum for irregular arrivals in the country, but also arbitrarily detaining them.”

“Lithuania is duty bound by its international obligations to offer access to international protection to asylum seekers. Following today’s finding by the Court of Justice of the EU, the authorities should immediately repeal this repressive legislation. It is essential that Lithuania offers access to fair asylum procedures to all who express a need to gain international protection.

“The Lithuanian authorities must also end their cruel practice of automatically detaining refugees and migrants. Today’s judgment confirmed that depicting detention as ‘temporary accommodation’ or even an ‘alternative to detention’ does not allow any derogation from the obligation to respect refugees and migrants’ rights against arbitrary detention.”

The Lithuanian authorities must also end their cruel practice of automatically detaining refugees and migrants

Nils Muižnieks, Europe Regional Director of Amnesty International

Background

In today’s decision, the Court of Justice of the European Union found that Lithuanian national law, which allows an applicant for international protection to be denied the right to asylum and placed in automatic detention solely on the grounds that they have irregularly crossed the border, is not compatible with EU legislation.

The Court found the practice of denying the right to asylum to be in violation of EU law, including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and debunked the Lithuanian claims that the country has the right to derogate European law in “extraordinary situations” or during the “mass influx of foreigners.”

Moreover, the Court confirmed Amnesty International’s conclusion that the measures applied in Lithuania are at all effects detention, irrespective of the authorities depicting it as “temporary accommodation” or even an “alternative to detention.”

In July 2021, as the number of people arriving at the Lithuania-Belarus border increased, lawmakers adopted new legislation that deviates from international and EU legal safeguards on the right to asylum and arbitrary detention.