The asylum decisions in Lithuania changed in recent years moving from being primarily subsidiary protection towards actual refugee status.
In 2010 out of 503 applications for asylum only 1 refugee status was granted together with 110 subsidiary protection statuses. In 2018 out of 408 decisions on applications for asylum 136 refugee statuses were granted with just 18 subsidiary protection status. This means that the refugee assistance system is really new in Lithuania and is constatly changing since 2016.
Asylum seekers can submit an application at the state border crossing point, city (district) territorial police services or Foreigners’ Registration Centre (Pabradė, Švenčionys district). In reality not everyone is allowed to exercise this right. International organisations have criticised the country turning back asylum seekers without having their claims reviewed. Lithuania refuses entry to increasing numbers of people. In the past five years refusals have nearly doubled, from to 2,865 in in 2013 to 5,180 in 2017. So one of the main problems with the Lithuanian asylum system is even getting into Lithuania to enter the asylum procedure.
Approximately 2,000 people are apprehended annually for immigration purposes, while fewer than 200 were placed in detention in 2017. The top source countries of apprehended people are Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and Vietnam. In 2017, 1,860 people were deported.
The first 48 hours
Here is the information from a detailed 2017 report about the first 48 hours of requesting asylum and about the following interview. For more information from the report follow the link: https://www.fafo.no/images/pub/2017/20631.pdf
Focusing on the initial phases of the asylum procedures, there are three ways to submit an asylum application: (1) at the border, (2) at the territorial police department, or (3) at the registration centre for foreigners in Pabrade. The State Border Guard Service (SBGS) is responsible for the initial registration of asylum applications made at the border. The Asylum Procedures Directive confirms certain basic procedural guarantees at this stage such as the right to a personal interview, the right to receive information and to communicate with UNHCR, and the right to a lawyer.
The Officers in the SBGS shall immediately interview the asylum seeker, take his/her available personal, travel, or other documents, take his/her fingerprints, and take his/her photo. The registration interview is done by an officer in a language spoken by the officer. According to our source, translators are often not available, and border guards often have to rely on gestures or body language. These initial procedures must take no more than 24 hours before the documents are handed to the Migration Department for processing.
The asylum application and other related documents are then sent to the Migration Department, while at the same time the information is registered in the Eurodac system. These data are used to help identify the country responsible for the asylum application (in line with the Dublin Regulation). After receiving the documents, the department must decide within 24 hours how the case should be processed. There are four main ways of processing the applications.
The application may be processed through a general procedure, which entitles the person applying to the status of a regular asylum seeker in the country. This procedure normally takes three months, but it may be extended by another three months, which, according to our informants, is quite normal.
The application may be processed through an accelerated procedure (unaccompa-nied minors are exempted from such procedures). An accelerated procedure has to be completely processed within ten working days (seven days and a possibility to extend by three more). During this time, the person that has applied stays in detention in the transit zone, or the State Border Guard Service may go to court to get permission to settle the applicant at the Foreigners’ Registration Centre. If the applicant arrives with young children, they are driven directly to the registration centre. According to our informants, most asylum seekers spend one night in the rooms in the transit zones.
The initial investigations may reveal a case to be a Dublin case, meaning that the person has registered an asylum application in another EU country, and this application is the responsibility of another EU member state in accordance with the Dublin regulation. In this case, the asylum application is not considered on its merits; instead, an investigation is carried out, the aim of which is to transfer the asylum seeker to the EU member state responsible for the examination of the asylum application. Such cases do not strain the asylum system in Lithuania, and transferring applicants to the country in charge involves no specific challenges. Lithuania requests around 20 such transfers per year.
There is also the option of immediate rejection. This applies if the asylum seeker has arrived from a safe third country (the principle of a safe third country is not applicable if the asylum seeker is an unaccompanied minor or if a safe third party is a member state of the European Union; in the latter case, a decision specified in bullet point number 3 applies). There is a limited amount of such cases.
The Migration Department has to decide how to process the case within 48 hours after the application is lodged. The Migration Department rules on the admissibility of an asylum seeker’s claim based on the information collected by the SBGS and police. These time restraints are linked to legal restrictions of detention. It is not legal to detain a person without a legal verdict more than 48 hours.
In this initial phase, asylum seekers are entitled to legal counsel, but this is rarely given. According to our sources, asylum seekers are informed about this right but have to actively request it; legal counsel is not automatically given. While legal counsel is a choice for adults, it is mandatory for unaccompanied minors.
The asylum interview
When the Migration Department decides to process the asylum application in line with the general procedures, the next main step is the asylum interview. The person applying for asylum is interviewed by a case worker trained in EU law, with the help of an interpreter, to determine whether he/she may qualify for refugee status or subsidiary protection (in line with the Qualification Directive and the Asylum Procedures Directive).
This asylum interview conducted by the Migration department, and is completely different from the initial interview conducted by the SBGS. There are no «standard» forms or «standard» questions, all the interviews are recorded and subsequently transcribed. First of all open questions are asked, allowing for a free-form narrative. Then additional and specifying questions are asked or documents presented are discussed. Finally all applicants are given an opportunity to comment on any possible discrepancies or contradictions in his/her story. The asylum interview mainly focuses on the essence of the claim, i.e. the reasons why the applicant has left his/her country of origin and is unwilling to return; also applicant’s background and life conditions in home country are usually discussed. Translators are used in the interviews, and the costs for this are covered by the authorities.