We know that people of many nationalities have seized the opportunity to enter Lithuania. Who did you come across?
We at ESTPOL5 met Syrians, Iraqis and migrants from several African regions. It was a colorful bunch, while people from Iraq and Africa dominated the scene.
Describe the average illegal immigrant you had to guard?
Men were clearly dominant when we arrived in Lithuania. Gradually, the focus shifted. The longer we were there, the more families and Iraqis we saw.
How many when compared to individuals?
It is difficult to say because we did not keep count. The number of migrants in our camp changed every day, while the relative importance of families grew visibly.
It has been suggested in the press that most migrants are young men who are by themselves. Is that true?
As far as I have seen. Men seem to outnumber women.
How did the immigrants behave themselves? For example, Punamäe reports that their conduct was quite theatrical in the camp he visited. People collapsed in front of the camera and said they had chest or leg pains.
Yes, such incidents did happen. They attempted manipulation, likely to get more attention. They also wanted their phones returned to them so they could call relatives. Things were largely calm in our camp. Especially towards the end of our rotation when single men no longer dominated. Families tend to make fewer demands and avoid protesting.
Why was it necessary to confiscate phones?
So they could not reach out to their home countries and urge other migrants to make the journey.
What did people say in terms of why they were in Lithuania and what they want?
They were quite tongue-tied and maintained that they are better off in Europe than in their homeland where the situation is bad.
Was it a rehearsed answer repeated by everyone?
I can make no such claim. It was clear that the language barrier made it difficult for them to say more in terms of what was so bad at home. People said there was war and bombings.
Did you notice different behavior based on nationality?
The Africans tended to be calmer. They definitely included people of modest education and experience. The Iraqis were more pretentious.
Were there any attempts to escape from camp?
We heard of no such incidents in our camp.
Migrants showed my colleague Sander Punamäe water meant for washing that they claimed was their drinking water and complained of poor conditions. What about the situation at your camp?
There were few complaints. People mainly wanted the return of their phones and there were some complaints over the quality of food.
Did you see what they were given?
Would you also complain about such food?
That is a good question as it is very hard for me to put myself in their position in terms of where they have come from and why. I believe it is up to the individual to decide whether the food deserved complaint.
What can Estonia learn from Lithuania’s experience?
We have a lot to learn as concerns preparations. How to prepare for such situations and how to handle such small matters as accommodation, catering and medical care of migrants.
What did your Lithuanian colleagues tell you when you left?
They thanked us for our contribution and experience and for teaching them a few things we do differently. They were very glad for the cooperation opportunity.