VILNIUS (Reuters) -Lithuania's highest court on Wednesday struck down as unconstitutional a 2021 law allowing authorities to keep all migrants locked up for months in detention centres if their numbers soar.
Parliament passed legislation in July 2021 to enable the detention of all undocumented migrants for up to six months and curbed their rights of appeal.
The move was aimed at deterring migrants from crossing in large numbers into the European Union member state from Belarus, but stirred an outcry among humanitarian groups.
Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said then the policy would prevent migrants from illegally making their way onwards to the more affluent west of the EU - the favoured destination of the vast majority of migrants reaching EU soil in recent years.
In its ruling, the Constitutional Court said lawmakers were within their rights to legislate detention of migrants as their numbers shot up, but they had gone against the constitution by barring individual assessment of a migrant's circumstances, and by taking away migrants' right to appeal in court.
Legislators had restricted "the right to freedom more than was necessarily to achieve their goals", the court's presiding judge said in pronouncing the verdict.
The ruling was the upshot of an appeal by an Iraqi migrant against his six-month detention in 2021-2022 that was rejected by lower courts.
Over 4,000 migrants entered the Baltic republic of 2.7 million people from Belarus in 2021, largely Iraqi citizens. The government began turning all migrants back at the border from August that year and parliament turned the practice into law in April 2023, dismissing the concerns of human rights groups.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas, editing by Terje Solsvik and Mark Heinrich)