The mental health of vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers is sharply deteriorating due to prolonged detention in Lithuania, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today. The flawed migration practices and legal processes of the Lithuanian authorities discriminate against people of certain nationalities, who are being held in continued detention. MSF denounces prolonged detention and systemic discrimination in Lithuania, and is calling for the immediate implementation of humane alternatives that equitably meet the needs of vulnerable and traumatized people.
“Many of the people detained have survived deeply traumatic experiences,” said Georgina Brown, MSF country manager in Lithuania. “But, instead of responding to their needs, the Lithuanian authorities are worsening their mental suffering by detaining them and holding them in limbo. These men, women, and children are uncertain of their future, terrified of being forcibly returned to the danger they have fled, and imprisoned without freedom, autonomy, or adequate protection. People’s resilience will diminish, and their suffering will only grow exponentially. Appallingly, we know that some nationalities are more likely to have this detention extended than others, creating a hierarchy of suffering that the Lithuanian authorities should be deeply ashamed of.”
Approximately 700 people are detained in Kybartai, Pabrade, Rukla, and Naujininkai Foreigner Registration Centers (FRCs) in Lithuania, after having crossed the border from Belarus in 2021. Many of them have severe vulnerabilities and have experienced highly traumatizing events. Detention only compounds people’s suffering.
MSF has seen that certain nationalities are significantly more likely to have their detention extended, remain detained after their detention order has expired, or have the limited freedom of movement they may have been granted revoked. For example, out of 184 people being held in Kybartai FRC during August 2022, Nigerians make up 16 percent of the total population, but 28 percent of the 65 people who had their detention extended. Six percent of detainees are Indian, but 15 percent of the 65 who have had their detention extension are Indian. Additionally, Russian and Belarusian asylum seekers who recently arrived in the FRC were not subject to detention at all, and have all been granted limited freedom of movement.
Since January 2022, MSF has provided mental health care to people detained in Lithuania. Our teams also provided primary health care until May 2022. However, mental health support cannot address the root cause of people’s suffering. Between January and March 2022, more than 70 percent of patients highlighted detention as the main cause of their need for support.
“I am so desperate, I tried to hurt myself because I want to [get] out from this prison,” a man detained in an FRC in Lithuania told MSF. “Many times, I really decided to be ready to kill myself. You are hurting, you are embarrassed, you are abused. And so, this is prison. I was desperate. I was so depressed. But I can’t because we need more courage. I am not too broken.”
MSF sees this distress echoed in other FRCs across Lithuania, including some where data is almost impossible to gather. We are receiving numerous reports from some of the FRCs that some nationalities, including Nigerians and Congolese, are more likely than others to be subject to discriminatory migration practices. These include continued detention after the expiration of their detention order without a court-issued extension, and having their limited freedom of movement revoked, returning them to detention.
Around the world, MSF has seen how hostile migration policies and practices—such as arbitrary and prolonged detention—deny people their rights to seek safety and compound their distress. MSF is calling for the practice of prolonged and extended detention to end immediately, and for the implementation of an equitable asylum system that respects the dignity, health, and human rights of all people seeking safety in Lithuania.