Roma Denied Documents and Rights in Lithuania
07 May 2002
The ERRC has recently received disturbing reports that Roma in Lithuania are unable to have access to basic rights due to a lack of relevant personal documents. On January 24, 2002, Ms Eglë Kučinskaitë, a former employee of the Kaunas Roma Information Bureau, reported to the ERRC the case of Ms Rita Fišeraitë, an 19-year-old Romani woman born in Lithuania, who had, as of January 2002, been unable to secure basic identification documents in Lithuania, and who administratively did not exist. Ms Fišeraitë’s mother and grandmother are reportedly citizens of Lithuania. Her two brothers have birth certificates and are listed in her mother’s passport. Ms Fišeraitë was born in Kaunas Clinics, but as her mother had no legal address at the time, her birth was not registered, and the hospital kept no record of the birth. In 1998, when Ms Fišeraitë was approximately 14-years-old, she was hospitalised for three days, after which hospital staff said that due to her lack of identification documents, she could not receive further medical treatment. From this point, Ms Fišeraitë suffered chronic illness but was refused health care due to her ineligibility for state-sponsored health care.
After repeatedly applying unsuccessfully for her birth certificate at the Civil Registry Office, in April 1999, Ms Fišeraitë approached the Kaunas Roma Information Bureau, where Ms Kučinskaitë was employed, for assistance in submitting her request. An official communique dated August 5, 1999, stated that her birth certificate could not be issued because no information on her birth existed. In October 1999, Ms Fišeraitë was issued a document, which listed her birth date as July 1, 1982, by the Central Registry Office. On March 2000, she applied for a birth certificate. In September 2000, the court informed Ms Fišeraitë that she must provide evidence of motherhood, through a DNA test, the cost of which she could not afford. On October 2, 2000, Ms Fišeraitë and Ms Kučinskaitë went to the court and were allegedly informed by the judge that he could not make a decision on the legal recognition of the birth of a person without identification documents. Ms Kučinskaitë then prepared new documents, which were submitted to the court. On October 12, 2000, Ms Fišeraitë’s documents were sent back by the court, and on the same day, the Civil Registry office extra-judicially issued to Ms Fišeraitë a birth certificate as a foundling, without parents.
Since being issued the birth certificate in October 2000, Ms Fišeraitë has remained excluded from access to basic social services and other fundamental rights because of bureaucratic obstacles to her obtaining documents which would normalise her status in Lithuania. In March 2001, Ms Kučinskaitë accompanied Ms Fišeraitë to the Santaka Passport Division to apply for a passport, as they had been instructed to do on January 9, 2001, by the Panemunë Passport Division. On September 24, 2001, an employee of the Santaka Passport Division stated that Ms Fišeraitë’s file was being sent to Vilnius. Then, on October 9, 2001, they were allegedly informed that Miss Fišeraitë’s case belonged to the Panemunë Passport Division and that her file was being sent there by post. On October 12, 2001, Ms Fišeraitë was informed by the chief inspector of the Panemunë Passport Division that her documents were at the Kaunas Migration Department and that she would have to go through the whole procedure again. On October 16, 2001, new applications for a passport for Ms Fišeraitë were submitted to the Panemunë Passport Division. In November 2001, the inspector insisted that Ms Fišeraitë should apply for permission to reside in Lithuania rather than a passport. Ms Kučinskaitë nonetheless submitted an application for Ms Fišeraitë’s passport and was informed by the inspector that that the joint owner of Ms Fišeraitë grandmother’s house give consent for Ms Fišeraitë to live in the house. Unfortunately, Ms Fišeraitë was not able to procure the document requested.
On December 7, 2001, Ms Fišeraitë was informed by an official at the Migration Department that her case could be solved without sending it to Vilnius by submitting a request for permission to reside. For such a document she would, according to the official, only have to prove that she had a place to live and an income, which she then did. At this point, the Migration Department requested that the joint-owner of her residence also give written confirmation, a request that Ms Fišeraitë could not accommodate. On December 16, 2001, Ms Kučinskaitë sent a request to the Migration Department and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to review the case. On January 18, 2001, a written response was received from Mr Almantas Gavënas, director of the Migration Department, who wrote that Ms Fišeraitë was obliged to prove to the court that she permanently lives in Lithuania, then apply to the Kaunas Migration Department for permission to reside in Lithuania, prove that she has a place to live and an adequate income, and acquire a statement that she has a place to reside from the joint-owner of her grandmother’s flat. Mr Gavënas also suggested that Ms Fišeraitë would need to prove motherhood in court, to later receive her passport.
Without appropriate documents, Ms Fišeraitë cannot be legally employed, and also cannot be registered to receive unemployment benefits. She is also excluded from state health care. Additionally, if she is caught without a passport, Ms Fišeraitë may be subject to criminal fines. Ms Kučinskaitë that numerous Roma in Lithuania are similarly without documents required to access basic rights.