New data released by Statistics Lithuania show that even more people emigrated from the country over the first half of this year than in January-June 2015. Demographers say the figures are alarming, but may be inflated due to Brexit.

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Some 23,000 people have declared departure from Lithuania this year, 6.5% more than over the first half of 2015 and equivalent to the population of the town of Varėna.

Meanwhile 10,000 people immigrated to the country (3% fewer than in January-June 2015), 79% of whom were returning expatriates.

"The situation is abysmal and it is not getting better, there are signs we are not moving from the bottom," says Professor Vlada Stankūnienė of the Sociology Department at Vytautas Magnus University.

In 2015, 44,533 people emigrated from Lithuania, the biggest number since 2011. Emigration spiked in 2010 when, in the midst of an economic recession, over 83,000 residents left the country.

Data released by Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency, suggest that Lithuania experienced the biggest population contraction among all EU members in 2015.

Stankūnienė notes, however, that while emigration this year may surpass last year's level, the prospect of the United Kingdom, one of the most popular migrant destinations, tightening entry rules for EU nationals may curb emigration from Lithuania.

Some of the departures this year may concern people who left Lithuania previously, but only now formalized their residency in another country for fear of migration rule changes due to Brexit, says Audra Sipavičienė, Vilnius bureau chief of the International Organization for Migration.

In other words, some of the 23,000 migrants may have left Lithuania last year of even before, but did not report the departure to the authorities until now.

"So far, it is difficult to make any predictions, since the UK government's decisions are very unclear. Everything they've promised to do so far relates to third-country, not EU, nationals. But you know how people react to fears - they do not necessarily pay attention to facts. Judging by reports in the media, there might have been more hostility [in the UK] towards Polish and Lithuanian migrants, it's hard to imagine how people will respond to it," Sipavičienė says.

She adds that if Lithuanian migrants decide or are forced to leave the UK, they may turn to Ireland, Norway or Germany, other popular destinations.

This week, the Lithuanian government announced a plan to fight emigration and encourage repatriation. Some of the measures include raising people's income and creating new jobs.

Sipavičienė says that the plan sounds vague and might well turn out to be purely declarative.

Meanwhile Stankūnienė has criticized the government's lack of concerted action and strategic thinking in reducing emigration from Lithuania.

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