MIGRANTS who have settled in Lithuania under the European Union relocation plan are fleeing over claims they will starve to death in the Baltic.
Since August 2015, more than one million migrants and refugees have entered the EU, many fleeing conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.Thousands entered Italy or Greece hoping to carry on to wealthy western Europe where most want to settle and build a new life.
But instead of making their way to Britain, Germany or Scandinavia, hundreds of refugees from the Middle East were sent to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, among the EU’s poorest countries, under bloc rules.
The failure of the EU relocation programme has been laid bare as it emerges 72 out of 90 Iraqis and Syrians sent to Lithuania and granted refugee status have left.More than half of the 63 refugees given asylum in Latvia under its EU quota have also fled, according to an estimate by the Latvian Red Cross.
Mohamed Kamel Haj Ali, 52, once a shopkeeper in Syria, currently lives in Rukla in Lithuania.
He said: “When we left from Turkey to Greece, our final goal was Germany or Holland.”But the land route from Greece was already closed, so we had no choice but to enter the relocation programme, which brought us here.”
Under EU rules, refugees are forbidden to work or claim refuge in other member states.
Some destroy their identity documents after leaving the Baltics, in the hope of claiming refugee status anew in richer countries like Germany.
Refugees have left Lithuania by bus for Germany and claim living in a refugee centre is better than leaving in the Baltic state.Mr Haj Ali said: “The ones who left for Germany said they left Syria out of fear of death from bombs, but here they feared they would die from hunger.
“So they took the risk and left.
“They are satisfied living in a German refugee centre, and are receiving everything they are entitled to.”
In the Baltic states, benefits are limited. Lithuania pays a refugee family of two parents and two children 450 euros a month for the first six months. After that payments are halved.
Mr Ali, who has only just won refugee status, said he too planned to leave for Germany with his wife and two adult children unless he could find work and affordable housing in Lithuania before the six-month deadline when his benefits will be halved.By contrast, neighbouring Estonia provides free accommodation for two years in addition to financial benefits.
Not one of its allocated 77 refugees is missing, according to Estonia’s interior ministry.
The European Union is struggling to implement its 2015 agreement to share 160,000 refugees across 28 member states.
Only about 7,500 have been resettled so far. Poland has refused to accept its quota of 7,000 and Slovakia has called for the scheme to be scrapped.Hungary has also rejected the EU plans.
Rihards Kozlovskis, interior minister of Latvia, said: “We can’t hold them here by force.”
Ilmars Latkovskis, head of the Latvian parliament’s Citizenship, Migration and Social Cohesion Committee, said that to make it attractive to stay, benefits would have to be boosted “to a level which would be very unpleasant for our own population, which is not that well-off”.
Qassem, 37, a Syrian working as a translator at Latvia’s Mucenieki refugee reception centre, questioned why the EU scheme sent refugees to eastern Europe.
The translator, who did not want to give a surname, said he knew only one other refugee with job.He said: “Why do you take us for relocation if you don’t have a place for us?”
But as refugees continue attempts to reach western Europe, the European Commission sees the relocation scheme as a success and stressed there are safeguards to stop refugees from leaving their new states.
Giedrius Sudikas, spokesman for the commission’s office in Lithuania, said: “If they move to another country, they cannot apply for work, they cannot reside there, they cannot receive benefits.
“And if they are apprehended in another member state, they will have to be returned to the state of relocation. These are important safeguards.”
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