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African women protest against discrimination, poor conditions in Lithuanian migrant camp

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Tensions are rising in the Medininkai migrant camp in Lithuania. A group of asylum seekers, mainly African women, tried to break through a gate in the camp on October 26 to protest against the detention conditions. The guards, assisted by police, responded with tear gas. The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to a Congolese woman at the camp who says she and others believe the guards offer preferential treatment to Iraqi women detained in the same camp.

The protest began early on October 26 when a group of African women gathered in front of a gate chanting “Liberté” (freedom). The women mobilised after an altercation took place between an African migrant and an Iraqi migrant in the camp, according to witnesses we contacted via WhatsApp.

Gathered in front of a camp gate, migrant women chant “Freedom!”, October 26, 2021.

Tensions escalated later in the evening, when police officers sprayed tear gas at migrants who were trying to break through a gate. Video and audio testimonies shared on WhatsApp explain the migrants’ anger: they had received expired basic necessities and, most of all, were discriminated against by camp guards. 

Video of a Lithuanian policeman spraying tear gas at the Medininkai camp, October 26, 2021.

‘One of the girls wasn’t allowed to see her father who had come to visit her’

Clotilde (not her real name), a migrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been in the camp at Medininkai for three months. 

We are living in containers. Single women, single men and families live in separate blocks. As a single woman, I live with other single African women, but also with Iraqi women. So we live together every day with the Iraqi women and things generally go well.

However, many African women have accused the Lithuanian police of creating tensions with the Iraqi women by favouring them over us. A lot of the Africans complain the the Iraqis have regular visits from their relatives, while Africans’ requests for visits are rarely granted.

During the night of October 26, one of the girls was complaining that she wasn’t allowed to see her father who had come to visit her. The guards only allowed him to leave a package for his daughter. When Iraqi women have relatives visit, the guards let them into the containers. They can touch and kiss each other. This inevitably creates frustration among the others who have not seen their loved ones.

But there are other reasons for the anger. A few days ago, the guards handed out expired sanitary napkins, and we regularly receive expired food products, especially yoghurt and chocolate.

I think that, beyond the living conditions here, people are also put on edge due to the prolonged confinement, the lack of space and absence of leisure activities. 

Personally, I’ve been living locked up in the camp since August. My asylum application was rejected. Everyone has been refused their asylum requests actually, except for two Eritrean women.

All we’re asking for while we’re waiting here is a bit of freedom. To get out of the camp from time to time, go shopping, get some fresh air.

Nearly 300 women are living in the Medininkai camp, 40 km from the capital Vilnius. Many of those, like Clotilde, who have had their asylum applications rejected, are appealing the decision. 

>> Watch our full report: Migrants trapped at Belarus-Poland border call for help via videos, GPS coordinates

Our team went to the forest at the border of Belarus to Poland to follow an NGO that has been helping migrants trapped between the two countries. © Observers

Since the summer, Lithuania has experienced an unprecedented influx of migrants: more than 4,000 people, half of them Iraqis, have entered the country illegally from neighbouring Belarus. Lithuania, like neighbouring Poland, is concerned about these arrivals and has started building a fence on its border with Belarus.

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