Linas Jegelevicius for the BNN
Just a few months ago, some Lithuanian politicians asserted Lithuania cannot accept more than several hundred refugees picked up or plucked out of the waters at the southern EU borders. But with the migrants’ tide rolling high and with the new refugee quotas proposed, the Lithuanian President herself has hurried to say that Lithuania is «capable» to accept more refugees.
The European Commission wants Lithuania to accommodate extra 780 refugees in addition to 325 agreed upon previously.
Lithuania needs to rid of hostile attitude
«This quota of additional 780 refugees is very little and is based on the EU conviction that around 200,000 refugees seek now asylum in the European Union. As it is evident that the number is way higher, there might be new demands from EU coming,» says Kęstutis Girnius, associate professor of the Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences at Vilnius University.
If all goes according to the plan, 351 out of 780 asylum seekers will be resettled from Hungary, 328- from Greece and 101 –from Italy.
Accepting 1105 refugees in total will not be «too much of a burden», believes Girnius, but for their accommodation and socialization Lithuania could ask Brussels for a bigger support.
«Around 2,000-3,000 refugees is a number that Lithuania could easily cope with if it got rid of its hostile attitude towards displaced persons,» the analyst says.
The worry over possible social problems, an aftermath of such help, is «unfounded», Girnius asserts.
«Most probably, they will not settle in Lithuania, but will be moving to richer EU member states, mostly to Germany and Sweden,» he believes.
Lithuania unpopular with asylum seekers
Until now, Lithuania was one of the least popular countries for asylum seekers. In 2014, a total of 496 asylum request applications were submitted, but only 117 of them were approved. Of all the asylum seekers, 117 came from Georgia, 99- Afghanistan, 74- Russia and 70 reached Lithuania from Ukraine. Others received the so-called enhanced protection for temporary stay in the country.
As not only Lithuania, but the whole European Union is not seemingly ready to deal with refugees, the politicians should seek «advice» with the nations, believes Girnius.
In the face of the humanitarian crisis, some of the top Lithuanian politicians have called to «embrace” refugees while others were irked over the mandatory nature of EU refugee quota distribution.
Vytenis Andriukaitis, Lithuanian Eurocommissioner, called on all to remember the history of WWII, when thousands of Lithuanians fled to the West in search of a better and safer life.
«Refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey live facing very hard conditions. The question is whether we ought to abandon them or save their lives? And if we say that we have to come to their rescue, then we have to calculate what measures have to be financed in order to satisfy their minimal living conditions….EU agreements and the fundamental principle of solidarity is mandatory to all 28 members of the bloc,» Andriukaitis was quoted as saying.
Solidarity is needed as it works both ways
Meanwhile, the leaders of major Lithuanian parties are split over the EC decision to send more refugees to Lithuania.
Social Democrats along with the Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU-LCD), or Conservatives, and Liberal Movement have endorsed the proposal, saying that Lithuania has to contribute to solving the migration crisis in Europe.
However, the Electoral Action of Poles, Order and Justice Party and Labour Party have criticized the quota distribution based on each country’s economic performance and size.
«I stand for solidarity as we, as a member of the European Union, also seek EU’s solidarity when we speak about Russia and Ukraine. Therefore, we have to show solidarity in tackling the issue,» Gabrielius Landsbergis, the HU-LCD chairman told.
He, however, wants the Lithuanian Parliament’s Committee on European Affairs to debate the issue in order to share the political responsibility.
The Lithuanian Prime Minister and chairman of Lithuania’s Social Democrat Party, Algirdas Butkevičius, was quoted by Government Communications department as saying that Lithuania «understands» the scope of the problem and will show solidarity in addressing it.
Labour leader proposes refugee camps
Valentinas Mazuronis, the chief of Labour Party, calls the EC decision on mandatory refugee quota distribution «a wrong solution».
«I disapprove it, as I believe that neither refugees, nor the majority of the states find such behaviour appropriate under the circumstances. When one or another number is forcefully drawn down upon the states, it does not address the problem from the core,» Mazuronis told BNS, a Lithuanian news agency.
According to him, the European Union has to «sort out» war refugees from economic migrants and send the latter kind back to their home countries.
The Labour Party leaders has also proposed to set up special settlements, where the refugees would be provided food, accommodation, education and other services.
«They could stay there until warfare in their home countries is over and then it would be up to the EU immigration authorities to decide who of them could stay in the European Union and who should be sent back. Today, we have an ocean of people paddling over here without any documents, scrambling over the border posts, also without any control, obviously. Among all of them there are all sorts of people,» Mazuronis emphasized.
What Europe does now, he says, is just ticking off the problem (on the list) while talking of solidarity and instilling empathy using a picture of a drowned child. But essentially, Europe is disguising is incapacity to solve the problem,» the Labour Party chairman insists.
Is Pandora’s Box opened?
Eligijus Masiulis, the leader of Liberal Movement, believes the re-distribution of refugee quotas for EU member states won’t mean «an end» to the plight until the Union comes up with «a clear plan» how to get the process under control. The Lithuanian politician is in favor of the quota system, but hints EU should resolve to «concrete actions», maybe carry out a «military operation.»
He, however, does not like the idea of having the issue of refugees put on the parliamentary floor.
«It would be a very bad precedent if the Seimas starts taking on the issues that stem directly from the European Union…It would work for the populist parties, which would use the crisis for collecting political brownie points,» says Masiulis.
Rolandas Paksas, the chairman of Order and Justice Party, believes that by the decision to re-distribute the numbers of refugees Europe has opened «Pandora’s box».
«We have sent all out there a message: yes, come over here, paddle here, drown, but if you reach Greece and Italy, then we will accommodate you – feed, integrate, provide you with lodging and so on,» Paksas told BNS. «I don’t know who is who – who is running from war and who is an economic migrant or an ordinary terrorist…I just want to tell that if we continue doing nothing, we will see the quotas raised again.»
Voldemaras Tomaševskis, the leader of the party of Electoral Action of Poles, insisted that tat Lithuania should accept refugees voluntarily, not obligated by EC quotas. He believes that Lithuania should be extending the helping hand to the Christian refugees under the persecution in the Middle East.
Topic of refugees is trending in Lithuanian media
Articles in Lithuanian media on the refugee crisis are drawing readers’ big attention, with many commentators expressing fears about the impact the resettled refugees may have on local communities’ life. One of the stories under the title «Lithuanian working in a refugee centre in Germany speaks out: people must know it», published by Delfi.lt, has garnered a record number of posts- over 2600 – for that kind of a story. The author, whose identity is withheld, shares his experience of work at a refugee centre in a German town.
«Lithuanians got to know what they must get prepared for when the refugees start flowing to Lithuania. It won’t be easy at all, as what I see over here is really very nauseating,» the author begins his story.
«Some of them are not some miserable men at all as all they want to is to suck off the welfare system that supports them..We do whatever we can at the centre, even what is not in our duties, but there are so many refugees that the numbers are hard to perceive. We register 500 people daily and all of them need to be taken care of,» the narrator goes on.
«Some of the refugees that I see here every day are not victims at all. Part of them is real humbugs, who do not want to work anything but want to live well. Of course, Lithuania won’t avoid the obligation and will have to accept migrants. But the authority should demand right to pick up re-settlers itself. I strongly suggest bringing Eritreans to Lithuania, who are Catholics and who are very hard-working people. The others who should be helped are Yazidi Kurds, whose religion is very similar to paganism,» he continues.
«Obviously, some of them are decent people, but the majority is horrible… They massively pretend to be teenage Syrians, though in reality they are Afghanis, Pakistani, Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians yearning for a good life. Around 80 percent of them are young healthy men in their late 20s. When asked why they don’t fight for their homeland or stay with their wives and children at home, but rather risk their life trying to get to the European Union, they tell they are married and plan to bring over their wives and kids later..It is obvious they are not Syrians…» the security guard-turned-author shares his remarks.