In 2015, when Lithuania started to implement the European Union’s (EU) relocation program for asylum seekers, messages about “the first asylum seekers settled in Lithuania” began appearing in the public space. In reality, the first application for asylum in Lithuania was submitted in 1995, two years before the establishment of an asylum system in the country. The first application for asylum was submitted by a family of Iraq citizens. However, they had to wait two years before a refugee status was granted to them in November 1997. Interestingly, officially this was not the first decision on granting asylum in Lithuania: the first decision had been adopted two months earlier, when asylum was granted to a family of Georgian citizens.
Lithuania officially became a receiving country of asylum seekers in 1997, when the Geneva Convention (United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees, 1951) and its Protocol (1967) were ratified and when the Law on the Refugee Status came into force in 1997 (as later replaced by the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens on 30 April 2004). By ratification of the Geneva Convention, Lithuania has committed itself to protect refugees on its territory and to provide them with adequate integration conditions.
In the period of 1997–2015, more than 200 asylum seekers were granted a refugee status, and since 2004 more than 800 foreigners have been granted a status of subsidiary protection. It is important to note that the main form of asylum granted in Lithuania till 2016 had been the status of subsidiary protection, while the status of a refugee was granted to a smaller part of asylum seekers. The situation changed in 2016, when a refugee status was granted to 181 persons and the status of subsidiary protection to 14 persons. It had to do with the EU’s resettlement program for asylum seekers, which Lithuania has been implementing since 2015 as most of the asylum seekers who were granted the status of recognized refugees in 2016 were Syrians.
A total of 425 applications for asylum in Lithuania were submitted in 2016. The applications were filed by citizens of 21 countries, as well as by stateless persons. Most of the applications (38% of all applications received in 2016) were received from Syrian citizens. Till 2016, the greatest part of asylum applications had been received from persons holding Georgian citizenship (in the period of 2010–2013) and Ukrainian citizenship (in 2015).
Most of asylum seekers are young persons aged 18–34 (accounting for 35% of all applications in 2016) and children under 13 (33% of all applications in 2016). Applications for asylum are more often submitted by male asylum seekers (64% of all applications in 2016).
Lithuania offers two types of international protection (asylum), which are as follows:
- The granting of a refugee status to an asylum seeker who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, citizenship, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of their citizenship and is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country or who, not having a citizenship and being outside the country of their former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it (the Republic of Lithuania Law on the Legal Status of Aliens, Art. 86(1));
- The granting of subsidiary protection to an asylum seeker, who is outside the borders of his/her country of origin and cannot return due to entirely reasonable fear that:
- he/she will be tortured, subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment;
- there is a threat that he/she will be subjected to capital punishment or execution;
- his/her life, health, safety, or freedom is under threat as a result of indiscriminate violence which emerged during an international or internal armed conflict (the Republic of Lithuania Law on the Legal Status of Aliens, Art. 87(1)).
The main difference between these two forms of asylum is not the nature of the impending action or the level of the protection needed, but the causes of the threat. For instance, the threat that person can be imprisoned because of his/her political attitudes or beliefs (the “conventional” cause) is a condition for granting a refugee status. Meanwhile, a threat to a person’s health or life relating “non-conventional” qualifies for the status of subsidiary protection.
A foreigner may lodge an asylum application to the State Border Guard Service at the border crossing point and on the territory of the Republic of Lithuania, where the legal regime of the frontier has been established. In places where no legal regime of the frontier is in effect, an application can be submitted to any regional police office or to the Foreigner Registration Centre. Asylum seekers are accommodated at the Foreigner Registration Centre in Pabradė, where they stay till the decision regarding their legal status in Lithuania is made by the Migration Department under Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania (the Migration Department). By decision of the Migration Department, an asylum seeker may be allowed to settle down in a living place of his/her choice, if the asylum seeker so requests. Resettled asylum seekers are accommodated at the Refugee Reception Centre, where they are enrolled in the integration program immediately.
While residing at accommodation provided by the authorities of the Republic of Lithuania an asylum seeker has the rights to: use all facilities pertaining to the reception; receive free of charge all information about his/her rights and obligations, as well as the consequences of failure to fulfil them, while pending decision regarding the application for asylum; receive free of charge all information regarding the procedure of examination of the application for asylum; make use of state-guaranteed legal aid; receive compensation for the use of public transportation where such use of public transportation is linked to the examination of the application for asylum; make use of the services of an interpreter free of charge; receive basic medical aid and social services free of charge at the Foreigner Registration Centre or the Refugee Reception Centre; to receive a monthly allowance in the amount of 10% of state-guaranteed income; if they are classed as a vulnerable person, use reception conditions relevant to their special needs; etc.
The Migration Department shall within 48 hours from the moment of lodging of the asylum application make the decision identifying the country responsible for the processing of the asylum application. If no other EU Member State can be identified to be responsible for the processing of an asylum application, the application is considered on its merits by routine procedure. This means that the Migration Department investigates if the applicant of asylum satisfies the criteria set forth in Article 86 and 87 of the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens, employing the services of specialists or experts in relevant fields as necessary.
An asylum application shall be processed by routine procedure within the period of 3 months; for objective reasons (if the investigation requires a more complex assessment of legal or factual circumstances), this period may be extended for another 3 months.
By decision of the Migration Department, an application to grant asylum can be also considered on its merits by urgent procedure. This procedure covers the cases when the asylum seeker: has arrived from a safe country of origin; in the application for asylum, only provides information irrelevant to the deliberation of the matter of granting asylum; in order to mislead the investigation, provides incorrect information about his/her identity or citizenship or forged documents, or fails to submit or destroys his/her identity or citizenship information or documents that could have been critical in making the decision to grant asylum; files an application for asylum based on details provided by the asylum seeker, which are inconsistent, conflicting, misleading, or contradictory to the information about the foreigner’s country of origin that has been collected, and are therefore unconvincing; files a second asylum application when no critical information or details have emerged or been submitted, which greatly contributes to the possibility that the asylum seeker may fail to meet the criteria established in Art. 86 (Granting Refugee Status) and in Art. 87 (Granting Subsidiary Protection) of the Law of Legal Status of Aliens; submits an asylum application for the sole purpose of hindering the making or enforcement of a decision to return or deport the foreigner to a foreign country; refuses his/her fingerprints to be taken; may be considered a threat to national security or public order for serious reasons.
In cases when a decision is made to process an application for asylum by urgent procedure, the application must be processed within 7 days from the day when the decision was made. This period may be extended on grounds of complicated legal and factual circumstances, but no more than for 3 days.
An asylum seeker who has been granted a right to stay in the Republic of Lithuania must have a foreigner’s registration card issued within 3 business days.
The decision to grant asylum is made by the Migration Department:
- When a decision is made to grant a refugee status to a foreigner, a permit for permanent residence in the Republic of Lithuania is issued for 5 years;
- When a decision is made to grant the status of subsidiary protection, a permit for temporary residence in the Republic of Lithuania is issued for 2 years and may be renewed after 2 years if the grounds on which status of subsidiary protection was issued still remain;
- When a decision is made to deny asylum (the status of a refugee or subsidiary protection) to a foreigner, but a temporary residence permit is issued instead;
- When a decision is made to deny asylum (the status of a refugee or subsidiary protection) to a foreigner and the asylum seeker is deported from Lithuania.
The decision of the Migration Department may be appealed against to Vilnius Regional Administrative Court (the Court) within 14 days from the day of service of the decision. During the trial, all legal services for the asylum seeker are free. However, such cases complicate the integration of the asylum seeker. When the decision of the Migration Department is appealed against to the Court, the asylum seekers are placed in the Foreigners Registration Centre in Pabradė. Such procedures can take about one year, resulting in prolonged periods of stay at the Foreigners Registration Centre, which means that these foreigners cannot start their integration. Only when their asylum applications are approved can they be transferred to the Refugees Reception Centre in Rukla, where the first phase of the integration begins.
Integration of persons who are granted asylum in Lithuania is implemented in accordance with the Government of the Republic of Lithuania Resolution on the Approval of the Description of the Procedure of State Support for the Integration of Persons Who have been Granted Asylum (the Resolution) and covers healthcare, education, social and other services, as well as monetary support. According to this Resolution, the program of integration of the persons who are granted asylum involves the following responsible institutions: the Ministry of Social Security and Labour of the Republic of Lithuania, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Lithuania, the Labour Exchange under the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, the Department of Supervision of Social Services under the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, municipalities, the Refugees Reception Centre, the Commission on the Issues of the Support for the Integration of Persons who have been Granted Asylum, NGOs.
The Ministry of Social Security and Labour is also responsible for the administration of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), which is a key EU financial instrument aimed at supporting the implementation of EU asylum legislation in EU Member States.
Main terms and definitions:
- Dublin III Regulation establishes the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national (non-EU citizen) or a stateless person.
- Refugee status is granted to an asylum seeker who is, owning to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, citizenship, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her citizenship and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country or who, not having a citizenship and being outside the country of his/her former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to return to it.
- Subsidiary protection may be granted to an applicant for asylum who is outside the borders of his/her country of origin and cannot return due to entirely reasonable fear that: he/she will be tortured, subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; there is a threat that he/she will be imposed capital punishment or execution; his/her life, health, safety or freedom is under threat as a result of indiscriminate violence which emerged during an international or internal armed conflict.
- Examination of an application for asylum in substance means an investigation for the purpose of establishing whether or not the applicant should be granted refugee status or subsidiary protection and whether or not there are grounds for refusing to grant refugee status or subsidiary protection.
- Asylum in the Republic of Lithuania means a refugee status or subsidiary protection granted to an alien in the Republic of Lithuania on the grounds and in accordance with the procedure laid down by the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens of the Republic of Lithuania.
- Asylum applicant means an alien who has, in accordance with the procedure laid down in the Law on Legal Status of Aliens of the Republic of Lithuania, lodged an application for asylum in respect of which a final decision has not yet been made.
- Safe country of origin means the alien’s country of origin in which, on account of the legal situation, the application of the law and the general political circumstances, it may be safely assumed that neither persecution on the grounds of race, religion, citizenship, belonging to a certain social group or due to political convictions nor torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as punishment or violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms is being practiced; there is no threat by reason of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict.
The right to stay in the territory of the Republic of Lithuania is temporary asylum in the Republic of Lithuania, while the issue of his/her legal status in the Republic of Lithuania is being examined under the Law on Legal Status of Aliens of the Republic of Lithuania.
 In accordance to the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens (29/04/2004, No IX-2206) and to the Order of the Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania On the Approval of the Procedure for Granting and Withdrawing Asylum in the Republic of Lithuania, 24/02/2016, No 1V-131).