By Victoria Zimmerman
Migrants seeking asylum in Latvia are living in extremely poor and unsafe conditions as a result of the maltreatment of Latvian authorities. This comes as a result of the European Commision proposing a regulation that allows member states to stray from their responsibilities under EU asylum law in cases of instrumentalization.
Instrumentalization of migration refers to the act of using migrants as tools to further a political agenda. The European Council has condemned Belarus for instrumentalizing migration, which has allowed Latvia to exercise the Regulation proposed by the European Commision, threatening the human rights of migrants coming from Belarus.
According to Amnesty International, “The Latvian authorities have left men, women and children to fend for themselves in freezing temperatures, often stranded in forests or held in tents. They have violently pushed them back to Belarus, where they have no chance of seeking protection. These actions have nothing to do with border protection and are brazen violations of international and EU law.”
Migrants have been forced to live in the forest with no shelter, clothes, or protection from the elements, animals, and other forces that threaten their security. Authorities have used violence such as beatings and electric shock to forcibly move migrants out of Latvia.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reports that migrants are being detained in two different Latvian Immigration Detention Centres that are managed by the State Border Guard Service (SBGS). These detention centers are essentially prisons and fail to meet the needs of migrants as many of them are survivors of various forms of violence. MSF has been visiting these centers since July 2022 in order to provide psychological care and support.
Through these visits, MSF has seen the maltreatment of the men, women, and children who are held under extreme surveillance and isolation. SBGS has gone so far as to confiscate these people’s phones once they arrive, cutting them off from communicating with their friends and family outside of the center. This places extra stress on these people who are at the same time dealing with the trauma that has caused them to leave their homes in the first place.
These migrants predominantly come from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Belarus and many are women and children. An Afghan father, living in one of the Latvian detention centers explains that his “family fled Afghanistan because my little girls were not allowed to be schooled and there was no freedom under the Taliban regime. Arriving here, the girls are still not allowed to be schooled and have no freedom.” Hoping to provide greater opportunities for his daughters, this man and his family traveled to Latvia, but instead have been forcibly placed in a detention center with no explanation as to why they were moved there.
This is just one example, but many residents within the center share similar experiences and sentiments.
Overall, migrants have been given a horrible ultimatum by Latvia: return home or face detention and violence at the Latvian border. Even with the ultimatum, which promises a false sense of choice, Latvian authorities have used force and violence to detain or sendback migrants at the Latvian border. Both options ensure that these people’s security will be threatened as they continue to be exposed to violence and instability.
It is critical that Latvian authorities take accountability for the human rights abuses they are inflicting on migrants and transfer these people to safer locations where they can receive effective humanitarian aid and support.