Is Lithuanian Migration Policy Sensitive Enough for the LGBTI Asylum Seekers?

Recently one Iraqi man reported to LGL that he will be able to reunite with his same-sex partner as both men were granted an asylum by the Lithuanian authorities in late December, 2021. Only a few asylum applications resulted in positive decisions since in the increased migration flow from August, which leaves the majority of LGBTI asylum seekers crippled with uncertainty.

United Nations Committee against Torture recently considered the fourth periodic report of Lithuania (CAT/C/LTU/4) and adopted the concluding observations on  December 21, 2021. It addressed numerous concerns regarding Lithuanian Migration policy specifics, including procedural standards and competences of the migration officials.

The Committee, among other things, urged Lithuania to take measures to ensure that detention of asylum-seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants is implemented as a last resort and provide adequate reception conditions, taking into account specific needs of vulnerable persons. Lithuania was also urged to ensure that asylum requests submitted by asylum-seekers, including those arriving in irregular manner and in times of emergency,  receive appropriate consideration by the competent authorities and fair treatment is guaranteed at all stages of asylum proceedings, including an opportunity for effective and impartial review by an independent decision mechanism, with an automatic suspensive effect.

Committee also mentioned the need to ensure an unhindered access of the NHRI, NGOs and journalists to the border zones affected by the regime of emergency situation.

Irregular migration flow to Lithuania, which became evident in August last year, was denominated by numerous authorities and media outlets as “hybrid war” where Lukashenko regime allegedly uses “illegal” migrants as weapons. Various human rights organizations as well as Seimas Ombudsmen Office representatives raised concerns regarding the irregular migration management measures which also attracted attracted international attention. Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, has called on Lithuania to uphold the principle of non-refoulement, as well as the right to an effective remedy.

While it cannot be denied that Belarusian authorities indeed may have failed to comply with the regulation of the bilateral readmission treaty and applied various political pressure measures towards Lithuania, such narrative contributed to further victimization of migrants who often already have highly vulnerable backgrounds.

The overall situation raises further concerns as Sigita Rudėnaitė, Chair of the Supreme Court of Lithuania, has recently stated that political pressure to the courts regarding the migrant situation is “very high”.

Since August, 2021, LGL received numerous reports from around 45 LGBTIQ-identifying migrants, seeking legal and psychological support. Most common complaints included the lack of access to medical services, dehumanizing conditions at the camps, some migrants mentioned being separated from their same-sex companions.

LGBTI Asylum seekers: “not gay enough”?

In an interview, Director of Migration Department Evelina Gudzinskaitė said that it is “popular” among asylum seekers to claim the LGBTI identity. As for the possible threat of persecution, she commented that “we know the realities, that there are a lot of homosexuals in Muslim countries, but they live without parading themselves, and that is why such different presence is tolerated in practice, despite the law says otherwise”.

Media also reported on the questionable interview tactics employed by the Lithuanian Migration authorities. For example, some interviews included excessive and intrusive personal questions on the number of sexual partners in order to “determine” asylum seeker’s sexual orientation.

Individual reports available to LGL also suggest that many asylum requests failed to be registered and there is an ongoing tendency towards misapplication of the DSSH model by the migration authorities which is used for  assessing asylum seeker claims based on persecution on account of their sexual orientation.

X (Name details are not disclosed for safety reasons but are available to LGL), an asylum seeker from Cameroon is among those who report being deemed “not gay enough” by the Lithuanian Migration authorities. Authorities doubted his credibility despite being provided with information that significantly exceeds the standard procedural margins.

Young LGBTI person with an interest in programming claims to have no future in his native Cameroon. He reported that due to his LGBTI identity, he was rejected by his own mother, was subjected to a violent assault by four men leaving him scarred for life, and served time in prison. His only “crime” in Cameroon, a country which criminalizes same-sex relations,  was his homosexuality.   He has a long-term boyfriend who also fled from another African country to Italy, and is now active in LGBTIQ Community circles there. He was the one who provided X with basic support for his arrangements to seek asylum in Europe.

Like many other asylum seekers who have already received rejection letters, X fears deportation to his native Cameroon. With the assistance of NGOs, he plans to exhaust the remaining legal remedies to secure his right to seek asylum.