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Lithuania Welcomes Migrants, But Few Want To Come


The European Union still hasn't figured out how to get on top of the migration crisis. Some member nations are rejecting an agreement that requires them to accept migrants under a quota system. Even in countries that have accepted the quotas, the process of actually absorbing new people hasn't been easy. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports on what migrants experience in Lithuania.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Quick quiz - can you point out Lithuania on a map? It's a small country on the Baltic Sea north of Poland. And if you didn't know that, it probably doesn't make much difference to your life.

But what if you were told that Lithuania was going to be your refuge, your safe haven after being displaced from your own home by years of war?

REDWAN EID: You can see it is a very remote place, and you feel like, wow, where I am now?

FLINTOFF: That's Redwan Eid, a 34-year-old journalist from Syria. He's been displaced for nearly two years.

EID: It was difficult because I had already stayed in Turkey for one year and half. And then when all the doors were blocked in my face, I was obliged to go somewhere else to Europe. I tried to go to my brother in Germany, but borders got blocked. And we got stuck in Greece, and they sent me here.

FLINTOFF: Here is a migrant center in a small town in central Lithuania called Rukla. It's a lovely place with a population of a few thousand, surrounded by forest and rolling farmland. But it can feel like it's a long way from anywhere. Under a European Union agreement made last year, member nations were assigned quotas of migrants in proportion to their populations. Lithuania, with fewer than 3 million people, agreed to take about 1,100 new arrivals. According to Lithuania's interior minister, Tomas Zilinskas, even that small number caused controversy with about half the citizens opposing the plan.


TOMAS ZILINSKAS: But another part they say that, of course, we should help these people who are looking for safer life and who are running from this war zone.

FLINTOFF: Zilinskas stresses that his country is only able to help people escaping from war zones and not those who are economic migrants. Redwan Eid fits the definition of someone who's fleeing war, but he's still uneasy about his chances in the place he's fled to.

EID: It wasn't my choice, but now I'm exploring it. I never even heard of it before. And, yeah, it is a tiny country. It seems to be a beautiful country, but the opportunities to get a job here - because, personally, I can never live without any job.

FLINTOFF: And that's a difficult point because Lithuania can't supply enough jobs for its own citizens. Hundreds of thousands of them have had to find work in other countries. Still, Lithuania's current government considers it an obligation to do its part to help solve the migrant crisis among its fellow EU members. It's been trying to promote the country as a safe, secure and welcoming place. It has two years to meet its quota, but so far it's only been able to take in about 80 people. Corey Flintoff, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.