Situation at Temporary Refugee Camp Verebiejai
26 September 2021
On Monitoring of Situation in Temporary Refugee Camp Verebiejai
Alytus, Lithuania (3-21 September 2021)
This temporary refugee camp is also located in a distant village, where we did not observe any local residents during our travel/stay. A two-store building of the old abandoned school looked good from the first site, but entering the premises we realized, that almost all infrastructure is out of order. Refugees sleep on the folding beds in the sleeping bags. Floors are cemented and the linoleum cover of the floor is broken here and there. Refugees live by two, three, eight and more in the classrooms, open sports hall and study room for training, which are not equipped for living. Seemingly they are placed by their countries of origin; 6 from Chechnya live in the former study room for the training, Iraqis mainly live in the open sports hall, enclosing their area by the extra folding beds, refugees from different African countries share separate classrooms.
Refugees complain on cold, bad food with expired date of use. Almost every refugee expresses disagreement with the negative attitude of the Lithuanian government towards them. They feel as in custody being guarded by armed staff. Many of them escaped from violence in their home countries and are surprised why European Union meets them so unfriendly.
Nobody knows exact number of refugees in the camp just guessing around 100. Somebody even mentioned the number of 170. Almost 90% of refugees in Verebiejai are male and female singles between 16-45. We observed 4 children and the only old lady among the refugees. Temporary residents of Verebiejai camp represent Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Chechnya, Kongo, Guinea, Iraq and Nigeria. A Kurdish family of two brothers and a sister with her three underage children came from a dispute border area between Iraq and Iran and cannot exactly define their citizenship.
Sanitary situation is not good at all. Lots of garbage and old staff is kept in the empty rooms with open doors. Two inner toilets in the first floor of the old school are out of use, but from time to time unclean water flows out of the closed doors, spreading the bad smell around. Lots of flies and other insects are gathered at the windows near the toilets.
Cedric, 25 from Cameroon describes his route to Lithuania as follows: Cameroon-Turkey-Minsk-Gomel (5 months) – Lithuania. The 16-years old Aiki from Nigeria, who came to Lithuania to seek for “safer life” also had similar route (Nigeria-Turkey-Belarus) to reach Lithuania. Murad, 45, who lives in Paris during the last 12 years, visited his relatives in Chechnya, lost his documents on the way and decided to enter EU from Lithuanian border. He needs help to reach France, but is unhappy that already spent almost two months in the camp, but nobody listens yet to his calls for help. Magomed, 41 is also from Chechnya. He lost half of his teeth when being tortured in the office of police in his hometown as representative of Chechen opposition. Magomed escaped from the hospital, was hiding some time in Russia, then reached Lithuania via Belarus. He is not complaining on the living conditions in the camp, repeatedly saying “I thank the God for everything, what he gives me”. Ansusman, 16 from Sierra Leone, who reached this camp on July, 7 says “there are not independent journalists in Lithuania, who might tell the society about the true situation in the refugee camps”. Fabio, 27, from Togo mentioned about UNHCR and Red Cross visits, but expressed concern with the local government, which did not meet them at all.
On September 03, some local people brought to the camp clothes for women and children. A refugee lady tried to coordinate the distribution but failed. As a result, there were quarrel and fight between women and angry refugees started to grab the clothes. Some ladies, who did not dare to fight, received nothing. Male refugees did not interfere into the issue complaining that nobody donates warm clothes to men.
On 26 July young refugees of Verebiejai camp conducted act of protest after asking the coordinators to improve their living conditions and not being heard. They climbed to the top of the porch of the main entrance with the primitively prepared slogans and shouted “freedom!” attracting attention to their problems. From the pictures offered by the refugees themselves, it appears that, the same day apparently some official (lady) came and calmed them down promising to address the existing shortcomings. In the evening of the same day head of the police staff guarding the camp entered rooms of refugees “to check their living conditions”. Refugees say he did that for the first time in two months refugees entered the Verebiejai camp. So, refugees guess he was marking male refugees’ rooms for the upcoming attack.
Next day, on July 27, early in the morning, approximately at 04:30, when all refugees were sleeping, a group of 5-6 armed and masked people in uniforms entered the camp, put male refugees in one room, tied their hands from behind and beat them severely. After torturing all male refugees, the same morning 16 young male were taken away by this group and up to September 03 relatives/friends of the disappeared refugees did not know on their whereabouts. According to the camp residents these refugees represented Nigeria, Ghana, Iraq, Cameroon, Congo, Senegal and Gambia. On September 06, I managed to contact one of these 16 “punished” refugees in Pabrade refugee camp. He said they were tortured for long time and then delivered into two separate camps. He was afraid to provide the full list of all 16. Nevertheless, he was quite open about bad times they passed after the refugee protest in Verebiejai: “The situation we went through was tragic so far. We are still really traumatised. If you are director of NGO, help us”.
Reportedly there were three breakouts from Verebiejai temporary refugee camp during the two months of its existence. Number of people, who tried to leave the camp in unknown direction is reported 30, 16 and 2. Guarding police managed to catch and return back just 3 or 4.
I managed to learn the story of the last breakout, when three Chechens out of 6 total, sharing the same room decided to run away. In the night of 22 August 2021, they attempted to jump over a 2 metres iron fence when two of them succeeded to do that disappearing in the dark. Murad, whose story is briefly mentioned above, could not come over, failed and hit his head. Consequently, he was caught by the guarding police and was returned back to the camp at the same moment. Early in the morning of 2021-08-23 five masked armed staff led by police guard leader without previous notification entered the Chechens’ sleeping room and started to beat all four Chechens (27, 32, 41 and 45 years old). Even those three, who did not attempt to run away, were beaten by the masked armed group. Police guard leader was swearing rudely. Magomed (32 y.o.), who tried to express disagreement to police guard leader, was clasped to his bed and beaten by all five military, so that his folding bed was deformed. When leaving they also sprayed pepper liquid on their beds.
On 8 September approximately at 17:00 five unknown male officials visited Verebiejai camp and interviewed 30 refugees including Murad forcing them to sign papers on voluntary return to their home countries. They did not introduce themselves and did not let refugees to take their pictures. but refugees still managed to take pictures of two of them. They said “you will be anyway deported in two weeks”, spreading panic among refugees. Just two people agreed to sign – Johny, young refugee with mental problems from Kongo, who did not understand the meaning of the paper (https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10161329748983574&id=554023573) and Javad, 45 from Iraq, whose story will be described below. Refugees were offered two options:
1) You’ll agree to sign the paper, receive 300 Euros and your transportation back will be compensated;
2) You’ll be anyway taken in any time of day and night and deported and you’ll be deprived the right to enter EU for the next 5 years.
They openly declared: “All Arabs, Africans, Chechens, Kurds and Iraqis will not receive asylum and be deported anyway”. The event spread fear among and all refugees in the camp.
On 13 of September a group of 7 masked armed military men visited Verebiejai camp, playing scene of “deportation” of 3 male refugees, including Murad, in fact replacing them to another single male refugee camp in Rūdininkai. All three “deported” refugees were treated like terrorists - handcuffed, blindfolded and escorted by masked armed military. There is a film available about “deportation” scene recorded on the same moment by refugees themselves. Recently Telegram channel published a critical and refugee humiliating article on Rūdininkai temporary refugee camp with 800 male single refugees. (https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Ft.me%2Fwilnonasze%2F489%3Ffbclid%3DIwAR1ilDSoBjpxZjQ-SoDF-mSt0iBzmbSs54SyAh7mUFki8PXcd6Hev7kUNxI&h=AT0rw-GYC5gFiC_OEM3yuSlVUDpGasLob6hzZLqH_4dRN95_cSNpTBSPhEQKJw-xZROZjD4bnBj6wMcWlXZEs1d3P4MR_TC7Lo1-rMvClyaaR1T5cd9pvHY4aVktbD9BqAf6AA) .
Ibrahim, 18, from Togo attended just 4 years of school and left his homeland since was forced to join Poro traditional society, which is involved in criminal activities. He started from his homeland on January 02, 2021, used Togo-Nigeria-Belarus route and crossed Lithuanian border on July 01, 2021. He doesn’t want to return back home since he realised that his father was secretly serving in the above mentioned Poro society already for the long time. Also, he mentioned the case of trafficking young people, which is widespread in Africa, when they are kidnapped by special groups and sold to criminal societies. He is tired of the long-lasting asylum procedures.
Javad, 45 from Bagdad (Iraq) is one of the two refugees in Verebiejai, who agreed to “voluntarily” sign the paper on 8 September. When interviewed he said: “I am fed up with bad treatment by Lithuanian guarding police”. He prefers to return back to Iraq and be killed in Iraq, instead of staying in Lithuania and being treated like criminals. He says “it is more dangerous for me here”. He left Iraq after he was attempted to be killed and they through a bomb in his house and injured his 14 years old daughter. In his telephone he has video evidence of how he is shot to his leg by two young motorcyclists and how they trough a bomb into his yard injuring his daughter. The reason he was persecuted in Iraq is he worked in the American truck company as a driver.
Refugees from Verebiejai keep sending worrying information about their state. On 21 September Emanuel, refugee from Verebiejai wrote asking for immediate help: “Me and two of my friends were forced to sign a paper with letterhead of Migration Department (MD) on voluntary return to my home country. I did not sign. But MD officers signed the paper themselves and handed that to me and my friends saying “If you are not happy, you may contact Red Cross lawyers”. I called the lawyer Marius several times, but he is always unavailable”.
Director, Refugee Council of Lithuania