On September 4, 2023, at the meeting of the Justice and Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament (LIBE) views were exchanged on the issue of access to the political asylum in Latvia and Lithuania.

The following persons participated in the exchange of views:

– Ms. Monique Pariat, Director-General of the Directorate-General Migration and Home Affairs (HOME), European Commission;

– Mr. Igors Rajevs, Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Interior of Latvia;

– Mr. Arnoldas Abramavičius, Vice-Minister of the Interior of Lithuania;

– members of the European Parliament.

In the course of the exchange of views, the MEPs criticized Lithuania and Latvia for their treatment of migrants from the Middle East. In particular, there have been voices saying that Lithuania and Latvia clearly violate the EU laws in crucial aspects. The discussion came to the point when the deputies had to speak about “infringement procedures”, connected to the violation of human rights.

Among others, during the exchange of views, two MEPs criticized Lithuania for the case of the human rights defender Olga Karach, who Lithuania refused to grant political asylum to on August, 18. The member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, Dietmar KÖSTER, and the Irish MEP Clare DALY asked a number of questions on that issue to the representative of Lithuania.

The MEP Dietmar KÖSTER:

– On the 4th of August, Lithuania declared 1164 citizens of Russia and Belarus living in the country to be threats to national security and said it would revoke their permanent residence permits. I understand that Lithuania has to be careful with Russian propaganda in its own country, but the measures should in no way affect negatively human rights activists.

I am deeply concerned about this decision as it affects, among others, the human rights defender Olga Karach.  She is the head of the organization Our House and has been fighting for human rights and the right to conscientious objection in Belarus for years. She was forced to flee the country. The Belarusian regime is very afraid of her. They promoted her from “terrorist” to “founder of a terrorist regime”.

Unfortunately, on the 18th of August, Lithuania refused her political asylum, calling her “a person who poses a threat to the national security”. However, she was granted a one-year temporary stay in the country, which does not mean at least security for her. The allegation is completely absurd.  No criminal case against her has been opened yet, and no official accusation of espionage has happened.

So, on what legal grounds is the whole case based? I think your country should respect international standards in all these 1164 cases. How will you ensure this? And what will you do with Olga’s case, as it’s obvious to me that she is not more than a human rights activist, and must be given asylum in your country.

The MEP Clare DALY:

– Last point is to support the point made by the MEP Dietmar Köster about Olga Karach and all others in that situation. You said that you welcome “real opposition” people from Belarus. That frightens me, to be honest. This woman is a known peace activist from Belarus. She does not support the war. She’s a peace activist and a conscientious objector.

If she gets sent back to Belarus, under the law she’s been accused of “terrorism” for her anti-war activities, she could face the death penalty. And Lithuania has said that she is a national security risk? Seriously? I mean, you have a responsibility here to address … to offer asylum to people who are conscientious objectors from Belarus, from Russia, peace activists presumably. I find it pretty scary, to be honest.

You can watch the whole exchange of views here.

Our House