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Lithuania Enacts Law Restricting Migrant Rights Amid Belarus Influx

A group of migrants is stopped on the Lithuanian border on July 20.
A group of migrants is stopped on the Lithuanian border on July 20.

Lithuania's president has signed into law a measure that restricts migrants' rights and speeds up the processing of asylum claims amid a flurry of illegal crossings into the EU country from Belarus.

Almost 2,100 migrants have entered Lithuania from Belarus illegally this year, including 1,400 this month alone, according to the Lithuanian border guard service -- a move seen as revenge by Minsk after the European Union slapped more sanctions on Alyaksandr Lukashenka's repressive regime.

President Gitanas Nauseda signed off on the legislation but called it "flawed" and asked for parliament to amend it later this year.

The law, passed by Lithuania's parliament, the Seimas, on July 13, allows for migrants to be detained for up to six months and makes it harder for them to appeal against asylum rejections.

Some 84 lawmakers approved the measures in the 141-seat Seimas, while one voted against and there were 58 abstentions.

Nauseda said that vetoing the law altogether would have sent a "completely unacceptable signal to the countries of origin."

Lukashenka has repeatedly threatened to allow migrants to cross into the EU in response to sanctions imposed on Minsk following a disputed presidential election last year and a subsequent crackdown on protesters.

Lithuania, which has a nearly 680-kilometer border with Belarus, has accused Minsk of deliberately sending the migrants -- a large number of whom are from Iraq -- across its borders and called the move "hybrid aggression."

The government has said the law will allow asylum claims to be processed in 10 days in order to swiftly separate genuine refugees from economic migrants.

Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis visited Iraq last week to persuade Baghdad to establish an effective readmission policy.

The law has also attracted criticism from rights activists.

"Today we have the law which violates fundamental principles of human rights and humanity," Akvile Krisciunaite, a researcher at Diversity Development Group, told AFP.

"Human rights are the same for everyone, whether we are talking about migrants or Lithuanian citizens."

With reporting by AFP and AP
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