What do Belarusian women need in Lithuania, what problems and opportunities do they face? What kind of assistance does Our House provide to Belarusian women who fled from the Lukashenka regime?
Belarusians in Lithuania
According to the official statistics, Belarusians are:
- the third largest ethnic minority in Lithuania right after Poles and Russians.
- During 2020-2021, about 23.350 Belarusians arrived to Lithuania on the basis of various documents, nearly 22.000 more Belarusians arrived there in 2022 (the number is aproximate, since the year is not over yet).
- According to the data provided by the Employment Service as of August 1, 2022, 7500 Belarusians are working in Lithuania, that have arrived here since the beginning of the active phase of the war in Ukraine.
- 88% of them are young men, their average age is 37. Their average salary is 1786 Euro “on the books”. As a rule, they work in Vilnius.
- 26% of Belarusians arrived after the beginning of the war work as highly-skilled employees in Lithuania. About 1700, or 87.1% of them, work in IT or communication sphere.
- Works requiring medium qualification are performed by 73% of Belarusians arrived after the beginning of the war.
- Only 1% of Belarusians perform legal jobs requiring low or no qualification.
- Such low percentage is caused by the fact that those Belarusians who perform unskilled work have to do that illegally due to difficulties caused by the Lithuanian legislation.
Specifics of the Belarusian women in Lithuania
1. All the women are political refugees but legally their status may be different
2. Bear responsibility for a whole family. When escaping to Lithuania, have to bring a whole “train” with them, consisting of children, pets, parents, etc.
3. Strongly-pronounced women leadership, brilliant women leaders with a strongly principled pro-EU position.
4. High social and political activity of Belarusian women human rights defenders, journalists and activists in exile in the Republic of Lithuania. Since August, 2020, in Lithuania, over 900 actions of protest and solidarity have been held.
5. Suffer from constant attacks and provocations organized by the KGB and other special services of the Belarusian regime, the FSB of Russia, including attempts to recruit agents among Belarusians in exile.
6. Suffer from constant threats of murder and physical violence, stalking and persecution of Belarusian women.
7. Provide help to others in distress (Ukrainian refugees, homeless animals, and so on).
8. Suffer from very strong emotional burn-out and tiredness accumulated during the last two years (incl. suicides).
9. Have problems with access to information, legal assistance, lack of political lobbing and attention to the problems of Belarusian women in Lithuania.
10. Suffer from domestic violence in the families, especially of former political prisoners. There are no shelters to use in such situations. Impossibility to get a divorce, even if a woman wants it.
11. Suffer from extremely strong paranoia and phobias (fear of the police, fear to go to the migration service, loss of communication skills in the result of the experienced torture).
Employment problems of Belarusian women in Lithuania
- A ban to legal employment while a woman is in the status of an asylum-seeker. Such situation lasts at least for 6 months. During that time the support constitutes 20 Euro per month for food and hygiene and 60 Euro once every three months for cloths on condition the confirming financial documents are provided.
- Women are busy with surviving, a lot are working illegally at different one-time low-skilled side jobs, without a stable employment.
- Average wages at an illegal job in Lithuania constitutes 3-4 Euro per hour. Payment is not guaranteed.
- About 15-20% of families with children, where the only bread-winner is a single unemployed mother.
- Quite often the family has 1-3 Euro per person per day (without rent and communal services), i.e., Belarusian women live beyond the poverty line.
- Belarusian women are too shy to ask for help due to their principle “maybe somebody needs this help more than I do”.
- Change of social norms: Belarusian women came to terms with the situation when such conditions, poverty and attitude to them is a norm (at least it’s not a Belarusian prison).
- As a rule, these women had a high social status in Belarus, a lot of them have a university degree.
Problems with Belarusian children in Lithuania
- If a Belarusian woman has no political asylum (a lot of Belarusians hope to come back home, therefore they prefer to get humanitarian visas or humanitarian temporary residence permit), her child will have no citizenship and will have issues with getting a residence permit. I.e., in future there will be a certain number of newborn illegal Belarusian children in Lithuania.
- Belarusian women have no money for extra-curricular activities and studies, as well as they cannot afford to pay for meals at schools and for school supplies (although sometimes it’s just lack of access to the information).
- Even if any extra-curricular or hobby clubs are free of charge, the question of commuting arises, as an average trip around the city with public transportation is 40-60 minutes long there plus back plus an hour for the club itself, so it takes about 2.5 – 3 hours. For that reason, a woman often refuses to take her kids to hobby clubs, and she is also scared to let them go there alone, therefore, the children stay at home most of the time going out only to school.
- There are some situations when the mother is arrested in Belarus, and the children made it in time to escape to Lithuania without any relatives.
- A Belarusian woman has no time to attend career development courses or just to relax and spend some time alone since she has nobody to help her take care of the children.
- In these last two years, Belarusian women have had no time to dedicate to their children, because they have been busy with survival, revolution, help to the victims, war in Ukraine, and so on.
What do Belarusian women in Lithuania need?
- Legal assistance, including issues of taxation, opening a business, preparation of various documents for residency in Lithuania. They need a free of charge, yet highly qualified attorney for a number of questions.
- Help of a social worker to prepare documents for various internships, support programs, also for their parents. A free of charge social worker for preparation of such requests is needed a great deal.
- Provision of children with humanitarian clothes, food, public transportation monthly tickets, etc. (sometimes these issues can be easily resolved with the help of a social worker).
- Help in the development of self-support groups.
- Help in development of small women’s business (hand-made and so on).
- Integration in Lithuania, including help with studying languages.
- Preservation of their cultural identity.
- Psychological help in various forms, including art therapy.
- Help with finding new friends in Lithuania.
Children’s creativity and development
(creation of self-support groups)
- Free developmental clubs for children, where Belarusian single mothers can leave their children for several hours to have classes at a club, and have time for their own activities or relaxation.
- Studying national Lithuanian, Belarusian traditions, dances, songs.
- Development of musical talents of Belarusian children.
- Art therapy for the children who need psychological help and support.
- An opportunity for mothers to attend career development courses or to get psychological help while their children are busy at the clubs.