The shocking story of the experience of a person who crossed the border of Lithuania reached the Seimas Ombudsman Augustinas Normantas: “I was detained while trying to obtain asylum and did not get an explanation for what reasons my freedom was restricted”. According to the person, the compulsory isolation procedure was more reminiscent of detention, since he was not provided with information in the language he could understand and his requests to isolate in a chosen place of residence were not taken into account. Worse, the detainee was not provided with adequate food for eight days; therefore, the officers of the State Border Guard Service, who felt compassion for the hungry person, had to buy him food from their own funds.
Having heard this story the Seimas Ombudsman Augustinas Normantas became very much concerned. According to the Ombudsman, the situation is disappointing because due to the State Border Guard Service officials’ actions related to the full isolation of a person who crossed the Lithuanian border, that took entire eight days, a timely decision could not be made regarding a permit to live in his chosen place of residence in Lithuania. That is why at the same time the issue could not be solved regarding the possibility for the person to be isolated not in the designated premises, but in his chosen place of residence, where, according to the Seimas Ombudsman, he would not have faced problems.
“This for us all awkward situation of a person who crossed the border reminded of a previous investigation, which pointed out that when individuals are not given an alternative opportunity to isolate themselves at home or in their chosen place of residence, they may experience undue inconvenience and stress, which under international law could be equaled to prohibited degrading treatment. Certainly, during the investigation, we also drew the attention of the State Border Guard Service to the need to adhere to the mandatory 24-hour deadline for the initial asylum procedures. We can only regret that in this case the deadline was exceeded as much as 7 times,” notes the Seimas Ombudsman Augustinas Normantas.
The Seimas Ombudsman’s attention was also drawn to the fact that the person was informed about his isolation only orally, without even making sure whether he understands the Lithuanian language. According to the Seimas Ombudsman, the person who crossed the border was not provided with the necessary and relevant information in a language he could understand. This allowed the Seimas Ombudsman to state that the officials had not properly informed the person about his compulsory isolation, which led to a misconception of the person that he had been detained by the officials, and for this reason the person had endured a lot of negative psychological experiences.
What is even more worrying is that during the investigation conducted by the Seimas Ombudsman, it was established that food for the the person who crossed the border was organized in accordance with the provisions of inappropriate legal acts, according to which food is organized only in cases where asylum seekers are detained for no more than 48 hours. The Seimas Ombudsman regrets to note that food of insufficient nutritional value has been provided to the person in the designated premises for as long as eight days, and such compulsory isolation conditions of the person extremely violate his dignity.
“After having established that a person was provided with inadequate food during his isolation, we first of all tried to find out whether at least its energy value could be equaled to the food that had to be organized by the municipal administration. Indeed, the doubts raised were reinforced by the goodwill and compassion shown by the officials who supervised the person who crossed the border. Officials told that due to the lack of food provided to the person they had to buy foodstuff from their own funds. Moreover, the day before his departure, the officials provided an opportunity for the representatives of the international Catholic organization “Lithuanian Caritas” to bring warm food to the person,” says the Seimas Ombudsman.
According to the Seimas Ombudsman, it should also be noted that during the isolation, the person’s written applications were answered by E-mail, although the legislation clearly stipulates that requests must be answered in the same way as they were provided. Moreover, during the investigation of the submitted complaint, it was established that the answers to the person that crossed the border were written in Lithuanian, although no data provided to the Seimas Ombudsman shows that the person could understand this language. These circumstances suggest that the officials provided the person with answers that did not comply with the requirements of the law.
After examining the situation, the Seimas Ombudsman drew the attention of the management of the State Border Guard Service to the fact that it is necessary to find out for what reasons the person was not provided with food established by legal acts. It was also recommended to take steps to ensure that in future the 24-hour deadline for initial action on asylum procedures is complied with and that persons are informed of the necessary isolation upon signed acknowledgement and in the language they understand and replies to requests are in the same form as the received requests or as specified in the request.
The Seimas Ombudsmen protect a person‘s right to good public administration, securing human rights and freedoms, and supervise fulfilment by state authorities of their duty to properly serve the people. The Seimas Ombudsmen also conduct national prevention of torture in places of deprivation of liberty in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office is a national human rights institution accredited with an „A status“ by the United Nations.