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Amnesty reports alleged migrant abuse in Latvia

October 13, 2022

The human rights watchdog released a report detailing what it said were international law violations against refugees under Latvia's state of emergency. Riga slammed it as "bogus accusations."

Migrants and refugees line up along the borders of Belarus
Last year, a crisis escalated on the border of Belarus with Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia as thousands of migrants tried to approach the EU bordersImage: Oksana Manchuk/BelTA/dpa/picture alliance

Latvian officials on Thursday rejected accusations by human rights watchdog Amnesty International that detailed alleged violations by Riga against asylum-seekers.

In its report, published Wednesday, Amnesty detailed alleged abuse by Latvian authorities including discriminatory treatment toward non-white refugees, pushbacks and "torture."

The Baltic state's invocation of a state of emergency in 2021 "is not justified under European or international law," Amnesty said. 

Riga imposed the measure following a major standoff with Minsk over migrants, mostly from the Middle East, trapped at the Belarusian borders with the EU.  

Belarus' three neighboring EU countries, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, accused Belarus at the time of "instrumentalizing" migrants as part of a "hybrid warfare" on the EU. 

What abuses did Amnesty detail?

The group said many families, including children, have been held at multiple detention centers and undisclosed locations in Latvia.

People interviewed by Amnesty narrated accounts of being forcibly detained in tents with 30 to 90 others.

Their phones were allegedly confiscated and some were strip-searched.

According to those quoted by Amnesty, the abuses were almost always carried out by Latvian Border Guards and unidentified special forces in black gear.

The report said Latvian officers had also forced people at the borders to sign a statement that they would "voluntarily" return to their countries of origin.

It also noted a sharp distinction between the treatment of Ukrainian and Middle Eastern refugees in EU countries, especially in Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.

To date, Latvia has provided refuge to over 35,000 people who have fled the war in Ukraine or enabled their safe transit to other countries in Europe.

How did Latvia respond to allegations of migrant abuse?

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgar Srinkevics said Riga "rejects these bogus accusations."

"Already for some time, [Amnesty] has lost any credibility and this report further proves complete degradation of once respected human rights organisation," he wrote on Twitter. 

Amnesty has come under fire after accusing the Ukrainian army of endangering civilians. The director of the group's Ukraine office, Oksana Pokalchuk, stepped down after the controversial report. 

Latvia's Interior Ministry was also quoted by The Associated Press news agency as saying that "not a single case has been identified" of Latvian authorities abusing migrants. 

"We do not support the efforts of Amnesty International to equate the malicious instrumentalization of migration and intentional threat to the EU's external border by Belarus, on the one hand, with genuine asylum seekers and persons in a vulnerable situation, on the other hand," the ministry told AP. 

ns/fb (dpa, AP)