Latvia: Legal amendments would empower border guards to torture and push back migrants and refugees

Ahead of an expected vote tomorrow in Latvia’s parliament on legal amendments which would effectively enshrine in domestic legislation the ongoing practice of unlawful and often violent returns at the border, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks, said:

“This attempt to normalize practices that are brazenly contrary to international human rights law is abhorrent and must be rejected. By legalizing the forcible return of refugees and migrants without granting them an effective opportunity to have their individual circumstances considered, Latvian authorities would be trampling on their rights and on the country’s own international obligations.

“The proposal to introduce an ‘enhanced’ border regime is yet another farcical abuse of Latvian authorities’ emergency powers. Rather than creating the conditions for people seeking safety to access protection at the borders, this proposal would empower the authorities to lock down the border even further, including by suspending the operation of border crossing points, where people could seek protection.

“If passed this vote will follow similar legal amendments in Lithuania and will become part of a wider negative regional trend that has been encouraged by the failure of the European Commission to ensure that States respect the principle of non-refoulement and the right to asylum.”


The vote will consider amendments to the State Border Law and to the Border Guard Law. Proposed amendments to the former would give the Cabinet of Ministers the power to trigger an “enhanced” border protection regime, allowing for special rules to be applied to people’s movements and presence at the border, in the relation to “disproportionately large” numbers of illegal crossings or attempted crossings. To qualify as “disproportionately large”, the number of irregular crossings could be as low as 15-20 people per day for 10 consecutive days.

The amendment on the Border Guard Law would introduce new powers to “prevent” irregular entries at the border at all times, including using force, in violation of the prohibition of refoulement and the right to asylum. While the proposal provides that there can be “objectively defined circumstances” allowing for a person’s immediate entry, these are not adequately defined, and it is unclear how the Latvian authorities plan to conduct an individual assessment of people’s circumstances to this end.