Since August 2015, more than one million refugees have entered the EU, many of them fleeing conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Under block rules, refugees faced relocation to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. As these countries are among the poorest in the European Union, refugees relocated to Lithuania are fleeing elsewhere out of fear of starvation. Here are ten facts about refugees in Lithuania.
10 Facts About Refugees in Lithuania
- Through the EU relocation plan, refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq have been sent to live in Lithuania, a small country on the Baltic Sea, north of Poland.
- While Lithuania is home to less than three million people, it has a quota of about 1,100 refugees to take in within two years. So far, there have been around 90 refugees sent there. Lithuania’s interior minister Tomas Zilinskas noted that even the small number of accepted refugees in Lithuania faced opposition by half of the country’s citizens.
- As benefits in Lithuania are already extremely limited, a refugee family of four receives €450 a month for half a year, after which the payment halves.
- A whopping 72 out of 90 of those granted refugee status in Lithuania have left. Many refugees claim living in a refugee center somewhere else is better than life in the Baltic States. As Mohamed Kamel Haj Ali, a refugee sent to Lithuania said: “The ones who left for Germany said they left Syria out of fear of death from bombs, but here they feared they would die from hunger.”
- EU rules dictate that refugees are to be forbidden from work or to claim refuge in other member states. Some destroy their identification documents before leaving Lithuania, hoping to claim asylum in richer countries amidst Western Europe.
- Refugees in Lithuania struggle to find work due to an insufficient amount of jobs available. As NPR’s Corey Flintoff states, “Lithuania cannot supply enough jobs for its own citizens. Hundreds of thousands of them have had to find work in other countries. Still, Lithuania’s current government considers it an obligation to do its part to help solve the migrant crisis among its fellow EU members.”
- After the discovery of a new route through Lithuania’s eastern border, a gateway into Western Europe allows refugees in to enter the country. Renatas Pozela, acting commander of the Lithuanian State Border Guard Service, states, “We are also seeing constant attempts to open new corridors [to Europe], mostly by Syrian and Iraqi refugees who are trying to reach Scandinavian countries.”
- While Lithuania joined the EU in 2004, its population has shrunk 12 percent to 2.9 million people over the past decade, as refugees and citizens alike flee in search of higher wages and better job availability.
- As Lithuania continues to depopulate, refugees help to sustain local businesses, such as a barber shop operated by Vilius Leveris. Leveris finds most new staff for his barber shop in the refugee hostel. Since Leveris opened his business four years ago, he has taken on 12 employees from Turkey, Libya, Syria, Morocco and Colombia. Leveris states, “I couldn’t find anyone here. Even getting a wet shave is a completely new thing… Now, if a refugee who was a barber at home arrives in Lithuania, the refugee center calls me at once.”
- Ilmars Latkovskis, head of the Latvian parliament’s Citizenship, Migration, and Social Cohesion Committee, said to make staying in Lithuania feasible for refugees, it was necessary to have benefits increased “to a level which would be very unpleasant for our population, which is not that well-off.”
These were ten facts about refugees in Lithuania. It is evident from the significant number of refugees in Lithuania fleeing the country, as well as the other neighboring Baltic nations, many areas within the European Union need assistance in their efforts to aid refugees worldwide.
– Kendra Richardson