In 2004, when Europe faced the greatest refugee crisis after World War II, a decision was made to implement measures that would help the countries that receive the greatest part of the refugees who reach the coasts of Europe – Italy and Greece. In 2015, after the proposal of the European Commission and agreement of European Parliament, the European Council adopted temporary measures in the field of international protection. According to these measures, part of the asylum seekers from Italy and Greece had to be relocated to other EU Member States.
By honouring its responsibilities as an EU Member State and by seeking to take part to solidarity and fair distribution of responsibilities among the EU Member States, as well as to help for other EU Member States that face huge flows of asylum seekers, Lithuania started foreigners’ relocation to the territory to the Republic of Lithuania in 2015. In accordance to the Resolution of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania On the Relocation of Asylum Seekers to the Territory of the Republic of Lithuania (10 September 2015, No 956) (the Resolution), 1,105 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, as well as from third countries (non-EU Member States) shall be relocated to the territory of the Republic of Lithuania.
Under this Resolution, the first relocated foreigners – a family of four from Iraq – arrived from Greece in December 2015. In 2016, 181 persons were relocated from Greece and 25 persons from Turkey. Most (166) of the foreigners are citizens of Syria, citizens of Iraq, plus there are 9 stateless persons who had been living in Syria before they left (Asylum Division under the Migration Department, 2017). Since the Resolution came in to force until the mid of 2017, a total of 344 persons were relocated in the territory of the Republic of Lithuania.
Decisions regarding relocation to the territory of the Republic of Lithuania are made by the Government of the Republic of Lithuania. The relocation procedure is being implemented in cooperation with the EU and non EU Member States, as well as international organisations. According to the provisions of the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens of the Republic of Lithuania, the Migration Department makes decisions regarding each foreigner who is chosen to be relocated to the territory of the Republic of Lithuania. For relocated persons to be able to arrive in Lithuania, the Migration Department issues travel documents in the form approved by the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Lithuania. Asylum seekers are relocated to Lithuania according 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 (Art. 7.2).
When the relocated asylum seeker arrives in the country and lodges an application for asylum in the Republic of Lithuania, the Migration Department has 24 hours to make a decision to consider the asylum application on its merits by general procedure, or a decision to grant the asylum.
Relocation of asylum seekers from other EU Member States consists of the following phases:
- Greece/Italy submit forms of the selected candidates for Lithuania;
- Security check is carried out in accordance to the data of the candidates for relocation and in the presence of representatives of the Migration Department, the State Security Department, the Police Department, and the State Border Guard Service;
- After the first security check, a meeting with the candidate for relocation is being organized in Greece/Italy;
- When the conclusions regarding the threats posed by the candidates for relocation from all law enforcement agencies are received, the candidates for relocation who do not pose any threat to security or public order, are officially confirmed;
- When Lithuania issues a confirmation of the candidates, Greek/Italian authorities inform the selected asylum seekers that they will be relocated in Lithuania and will have their applications for asylum processed there;
- In cooperation with the Embassies of the Republic of Lithuania and the Migration Department, institutions responsible for relocation of asylum seekers in Greece/Italy provide all relevant information about Lithuania to the selected candidates (cultural orientation);
- When the selected candidates arrive in the country, they are registered as asylum seekers in Lithuania and the standard procedure of application for asylum starts. The aim of the procedure is to evaluate and determine if the asylum seeker meets the criteria for granting asylum in Lithuania;
- When the decision to grant asylum is made, the foreigner is allowed to stay in Lithuania. If the person is found not to meet the criteria for asylum, he/she must be returned to the country of origin.
Asylum seekers who arrive in the country under the EU asylum seeker relocation program are accommodated not at the Foreigners Registration Centre in Pabradė, but at the Refugee Reception Centre in Rukla, where they immediately join the integration program.