At the outset of the Syrian refugee crisis, after it had became clear that Lithuania would have to chip in to relieve pressure of incoming migrants on southern European Union states, Minister of the Interior Saulius Skvernelis hinted that the country would prefer to resettle Christians rather than Muslims.
Deputy Minister of the Interior Elvinas Jankevičius later said that religion would not be used as a criteria. Instead, he said, Lithuania would select families from different regions of Syria to resettle.
However, legal experts and NGO representatives say that bringing in migrants of particular familial status and religions would represent discrimination and, moreover, would not guarantee successful integration.
Asylum law expert Lyra Jakulevičienė of Mykolas Romeris University notes that there are no scientifically proven relation between education or religion and the rate of success in adapting to a different cultural environment.
"Even if you know all the qualifications, motivation and other things, estimating [a migrant's] potential for successful integration is impossible," Jakulevičienė said during a conference on refugee resettlement on Thursday. "It has been shown scientifically that such correlations are very weak and vague: No one can tell with any certainty that Christians will integrate better in Lithuania than Muslims or that a person with a university degree will find a job more easily than the one ready to accept any kind of work."
While she admits that most EU countries will use criteria like family status, education, health or cultural background, such practices are discriminatory and fail to provide asylum to those most in need of help.
Professor Egdūnas Račius, a Middle East expert at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, is also critical of suggestions that Lithuania should only accept Christian refugees. He says that, if anything, Sunni Muslim community has the longest history in Lithuania and Sunni Islam is recognized by the state as a traditional religion.
"We often have unfounded expectations about who is going to come," he said at the conference. "I'd counteract them by saying that Lithuania should say: We will only bring in Sunni Muslims. Why? Because we recognize Sunni Islam as a traditional religion. We have a muftiate and the mufti has diplomatic immunity, in the eyes of the state he is no different from a Catholic cardinal."
According to Račius, Lithuania's Sunni community is 700 years old and would have "no problem" integrating Sunni Muslim refugees.
He is also critical of multicultural education in Lithuania which he says adds to public ignorance and resentment of foreign cultures.
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