At least 14 reports of collective expulsions in Lithuania have been submitted by agents of the EU border agency Frontex, a rights watchdog said.
“To my knowledge, I now believe there are at least 14 reports of serious incidents,” said Katarzyna Wencel, Frontex’s fundamental rights supervisor.
Wencel made his remarks on Thursday (October 7) at an event organized by the Brussels-based think tank, the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS). He said the reports indicated: “collective expulsion practices, which is, which I think is the most problematic.”
“Frontex agents are not directly involved in the so-called redirection of people,” he said.
Collective expulsions of people who cross a border to request asylum constitute a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Warsaw-based agency has 126 officers in Lithuania, with some patrolling the border along Belarus with their Lithuanian counterparts. The European Asylum Support Agency (Easo) is also on the ground.
The agency’s presence followed nearly € 37 million of EU support to Lithuania, as well as a recent visit by EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.
The money is intended to “help improve reception capacity in Lithuania after the exceptional number of people who cross the border between Lithuania and Belarus irregularly.”
By mid-August, Lithuania had detained more than 4,100 people at its border, compared to 81 for all of 2020. The increase came as the Minsk regime began moving migrants to the border with Lithuania, Latvia and later with Poland. .
Lithuania also made legislative changes over the summer that allowed authorities to dismiss asylum applications and bring people back to the border without reviewing individual cases.
In September, the Brussels-based European Council of Refugees and Exiles (Ecre) said that “these legislative changes and practices create preconditions for the collective expulsion of asylum seekers.”
Similar expulsions have also been documented in Poland by human rights groups, such as Amnesty International.
Polish law professor Tomasz Sieniow, also speaking at the CEPS event, also accused Poland of collective expulsions. He said that people were being denied access to asylum in violation of the Schengen border code.
Others were unknowingly tricked into signing a document waiving rights to appeal deportations, he added.
The mass expulsions also come amid widespread new media revelations about illegal returns in Croatia, Greece and Romania.
Lighthouse Reports, in a joint investigation with Der Spiegel and others, for eight months he had documented a campaign of illegal returns in the three EU states.
They filmed 14 pushback operations, involving at least 42 agents, some of whom were partially funded and equipped with EU budgets.
The European Commission maintains that returns are illegal and requires national authorities to initiate investigations.
Similar statements were made last year when media revelations implicated Frontex in setbacks along the Greek-Turkish border, leading to an investigation by the European Parliament.
Johansson on Thursday described the revelations behind the latest media exposures as shocking.
He said it damaged the reputation of the European Union and “indicates some kind of orchestration of violence on our external borders.”
He told reporters that he intends to raise the issue with the interior ministers of Greece and Croatia before the Justice and Home Affairs ministerial meeting on Friday.
He noted that Croatia has an independent monitoring system that is supposed to ensure that rights are respected at the borders.
Greece is also supposed to establish one, but the Greek interior minister, Notis Mitarachi, has so far refused on the grounds that there are no rollbacks.