Baltic state subjects refugees to ‘torture’ – Amnesty International
Latvian ‘commandos’ targeted non-white asylum seekers before taking in Ukrainians, rights group says
Latvia uses masked « commandos » to mistreat many asylum seekers, including through criminal acts such as torture, Amnesty International, the international human rights organization, has claimed.
The group released a damning report on Thursday, detailing Riga’s response to a refugee crisis on its border with Belarus that erupted last year. Latvia and two other EU Member States, Poland and Lithuania, « continue to commit serious abuses under the pretext of being the victim of a « hybrid attack » by Belarus », said Eve Geddie, director of Amnesty’s EU institutions office.
Riga imposed a state of emergency on border regions in August 2021, as dozens of potential asylum seekers from the Middle East began arriving from Belarus last summer.
The authors of the document considered that the measure « was neither necessary nor proportionate as required by European, regional and international law », and allowed Latvian authorities to effectively deny people their right to seek refuge. Investigators recorded a « catalogue of human rights violations » that he found « Long and shocking. »
Instead of benefiting from the protection of the Latvian government, many people were subjected to arbitrary detentions which sometimes amounted to enforced disappearances, the group claimed. Victims were held incommunicado in undisclosed locations and subjected to coercion, abuse and even torture, according to the report.
Most of the violence was committed by armed and masked men, whom the rights monitor dubbed » commandos « pointing out that they had « served as agents of the Latvian state. » They reportedly used force to discipline unruly detainees, but Amnesty believes this was part of intimidation tactics intended to pressure the refugees to return to Belarus. « voluntarily. »
In some cases, executors practiced « gratuitous and cruel use of electroshock devices on various parts of their bodies, including the genitals », said the document.
Many refugees have been held for months in tent camps in the Latvian forests. While the government described these places as « humanitarian » outposts, living conditions there were dire, according to Amnesty. People only had holes in the ground for toilets and no showers, the group noted.
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Latvian border guards have also confiscated documents and mobile phones from detainees, preventing them from knowing their whereabouts or keeping in touch with their families.
The watchdog noted the stark difference between the treatment of people at the Belarusian border and the welcome received by thousands of Ukrainian refugees, who received food and shelter in the Latvian capital and were allowed to travel in other EU countries. Riga showed a “Basically racist and discriminatory approach towards non-white refugees and migrants” from Belarus, concludes the report.