Latvia: refugees and migrants arbitrarily detained, tortured and forced to “voluntarily” return to their countries

Many faced beatings and electric shocks with tasers, including on the genitals. Some were illegally forced to “voluntarily” return to their homeland.

has set a cruel ultimatum to refugees and migrants: agree to return “voluntarily” to their countries, or be stuck at the border facing arrest, illegal return and torture. In some cases, their arbitrary detention at the border can lead to forced deportation,” said Eve GeddieDirector of ’s European Institutions Office.

“Latvian authorities have left men, women and children to fend for themselves in the cold, often in the forest or in tents. They have pushed them violently back to , where they have no chance to seek protection. These actions have nothing to do with border protection and are gross violations of international and EU law.

On August 10, 2021, Latvia introduced a because the number of people encouraged to the border by Belarus has increased. Contrary to EU and international law and the principle of non-refoulement, the emergency rules suspended the right to seek asylum in four border areas and enabled the Latvian authorities to forcibly and indiscriminately return to Belarus.

Latvian authorities have repeatedly extended the state of emergency, currently until November 2022, although movement has decreased over time, and they have admitted that the number of attempted entries was due to multiple crossings by the same people.

Dozens of refugees and migrants have been arbitrarily kept in tents at the border in unsanitary conditions. A small number of people were allowed into Latvia, most of whom were placed in detention centers and offered limited or no access to asylum procedures, legal aid. or independent supervision.

Amnesty’s report on Latvia follows and complements similar reports focusing on the abuse of refugees and migrants. Belarus, Poland and Lithuania.

Violent setbacks, arbitrary arrests and possible enforced disappearances

During the state of emergency, the border guards of Latvia, in cooperation with unidentified “commandos”, the army and the police, repeatedly subjected people to sums of money, illegal and violent forced returns. In response, the Belarusian authorities would systematically push people back to Latvia.

Zakan Iraqi man stuck at the border for about three months told Amnesty International that he had been pushed back more than 150 times, sometimes eight times in one day.

Hassananother man from who spent five months at the border, said: “They forced us to be completely naked, sometimes they beat us naked and then they forced us to cross back to Belarus, sometimes a river crossing a river, which was very cold. They said they would shoot us if we don’t cross.”

Between pushes, people had to spend long periods of time stuck at the border or in tents set up by the authorities in isolated forest areas. Latvian authorities have so far denied using the tents for anything other than “humanitarian aid”, but Amnesty International’s findings show that the tents were heavily guarded sites used to arbitrarily detain refugees and migrants and as outposts for illegal returns.

Those who couldn’t stay in the tent sometimes ended up at the border outside, when the winter temperatures sometimes dropped to -20 degrees. Adil, an Iraqi man who spent several months in the forest since August 2021, told Amnesty International: “We slept in the forest on top of the snow. We used to light a fire to keep warm, there were wolves, bears.”

At the border and in the tents, the authorities confiscated people’s mobile phones to prevent contact with the outside world. Some families are looking for people who were last known to be in Latvia but could not be reached by phone. A Latvian NGO said that between August and November 2021, they were contacted by the relatives of more than 30 refugees and migrants who were feared to have disappeared.

Keeping migrants and refugees in tents in undisclosed locations or leaving them stranded at the border without communication or safe options for constant transportation back and forth between Latvia and Belarus is “secret detention” and can lead to forced detention.

Forced return, exploitation and torture

Due to the lack of effective access to asylum during the state of emergency, Latvian officials forced some of those detained at the border to “voluntarily” agree to return to their home country as the only way to get out of the forest.

Others were coerced or misled into accepting voluntary returns at detention centers or police stations.

Hassan, an Iraqi, told Amnesty International that he tried to explain that his life would be in danger if he was returned: “The commando replied: ‘You can die here too’”.

Another Iraqi, Omardescribed how the officer hit her from behind and forced her to sign the return paper: “He held my hand and said you should sign and then he forced me to sign.”

In some cases, the IOM representative in Latvia ignored evidence that people relocated under the “voluntary” return procedure had not given their actual consent to return.

“Latvia, and continue to engage in serious abuses under the pretext of being the target of a ‘ attack’ by Belarus. As winter approaches and border movement has returned, the state of emergency allows Latvian authorities to continue illegally returning people to Belarus. Many more could be exposed to violence, to arbitrary arrests and other abuses with little or no independent oversight,” said Eve Geddie.

“Latvia’s disgraceful treatment of people arriving at its borders is an important test for the European institutions, which must take urgent action to ensure that Latvia ends the state of emergency and restores the right to asylum throughout the country to all asylum seekers, regardless of their origin. or how they crossed the line.”


As efforts against Latvia, Lithuania and Poland increase on the border of Belarus, the Council of the EU prioritizes the adoption of a regulation on the “instrumentalization” of migrants and asylum seekers. This would allow member states facing situations of “instrumentalization” – as Latvia has experienced – to deviate from their obligations under EU asylum and immigration law. The proposal disproportionately affects the rights and risks of refugees and migrants weaken Uniform application of EU asylum legislation.

In June, the ruled that Lithuania’s asylum and immigration law, which limited people’s ability to apply for asylum during a state of emergency and provided for the automatic detention of asylum seekers, does not comply with EU law.

The Court’s analysis and conclusions should apply directly to the situation in Latvia, where a state of emergency effective from August 2021 effectively prevents most people arriving or attempting to arrive “irregularly” from Belarus from receiving asylum.

See Amnesty International’s reports on the subject Belarus, Poland and Lithuania.


Source: Amnesty International

Source: The Nordic Page

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