Statement from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, on law amendments adopted in Latvia.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is following with concern the latest developments in Latvia, where last week, the Saeima (Parliament) adopted amendments to the State Border Law and the State Border Guard Law.
Earlier this month, UNHCR’s Representation for the Nordic and Baltic Countries analyzed the proposed amendments carefully and provided observations with a set of concrete recommendations.
As stated in the observations and bilateral discussions with Latvian authorities and government representatives, UNHCR is concerned that the changes to the laws will effectively authorize pushbacks – and therefore may lead to individuals not being granted effective access to territory and the right to seek asylum, which would constitute a breach of international and European law.
The law amendments authorize Latvian border guards to prevent entry to the country in a case where an asylum-seeker has entered the territory in an irregular manner and without an objective reason for not crossing at an official border crossing point. However, the right to seek asylum applies irrespective of the mode of arrival – and it is the responsibility of the state to provide admission, in order to examine an asylum claim.
For refugees fleeing war, conflict and persecution, it is often unavoidable to travel without fulfilling necessary travel and immigration requirements to exit and enter countries legally. Not allowing persons seeking international protection access to asylum procedures when entering a country irregularly would render meaningless the right to asylum and the non-refoulement principle of not sending anyone back to a situation where their life could be in danger.
UNHCR is also deeply worried that the law amendments do not specify how assessments to refuse entry for asylum-seekers arriving irregularly should be conducted, and that the assessments will be undocumented. This approach may lead to decisions lacking procedural safeguards, not being individualized nor appropriate with a risk of collective expulsions, where individual circumstances, rights and needs are not taken into account.
UNHCR fully acknowledges Latvia’s security concerns, and we repeat our clear condemnation of any instrumentalization of refugees and migrants by states. This creates grave risks and human suffering. At the same time, UNHCR underlines that effective border management is possible while also adhering to fundamental human rights, including the right to seek asylum.
UNHCR reiterates its clear recommendation to Latvia that all individuals expressing a wish to seek asylum, no matter how or where they have crossed the border, must be admitted to the territory and referred to asylum procedures.
UNHCR appreciates the continuous and constructive dialogue with Latvian counterparts. We have also expressed our readiness to engage further to provide clarity, guidance and technical assistance to help ensure that Latvian laws and border procedures are in full accordance with international obligations.