More than 2,000 illegal push-backs ‘tip of the iceberg’, report says
In recent months, more than 2,000 people have been illegally barred from seeking protection along Europe’s borders, according to a new report. Aid groups say the real number is likely to be even higher.
Over three months from January to April this year, at least 2,162 people were arrested at the borders of European countries and illegally turned back or “pushed back”, according to a new report.
From border crossings in Italy, Greece, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Hungary, records of refoulements of migrants collected by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and 10 other social organizations civil rights in six countries are documented in Protecting Rights at Borders. (PRAB) report: “Pushing back responsibility”. The report comes after the Guardian Last week, the newspaper claimed that push-backs during the COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in the deaths of at least 2,000 migrants.
“Along the routes of the Central Mediterranean and the Western Balkans, as well as at the internal borders of the EU, push-backs are no exception,” says the PRAB report. More than a third of refoulements reported by migrants involved human rights violations, including denial of access to asylum procedures, physical violence and assault, theft, extortion and destruction of property. goods. Those responsible for the abuses were the National Border Police and other law enforcement officials.
Refused water, bitten by dogs and forced to kneel in the snow
At the coastal border between France and Italy, migrants attempting to cross said they were intercepted by French border police, then detained overnight at the French police border post. “[The migrants] are denied the right to seek asylum, do not receive sufficient food, water and blankets, and do not benefit from any interpretation or medical assistance. The next day, they are sent back to Italy, ”says the report.
Migrants who were returned to Serbia from Hungary and Romania said they had been subjected to different types of mistreatment and abuse. In two cases, migrants said they were bitten by dogs released by border guards. Others said they were slapped, kicked, beaten with police batons and beaten on the back, hands and legs. Most of those interviewed said they were forced to sit or kneel on the ground regardless of rain or snow and their cell phones were destroyed and not returned.
“It is extremely disturbing that so many people are subjected to pushbacks and violence at borders. It goes without saying that states must end the violence and these illegal practices, and the perpetrators must be held accountable,” said Charlotte Slente, secretary general of the DRC.
Also read: Vast majority of refoulements in Southeastern Europe involve torture, rights observers say
Higher actual number of pushbacks
The report also reveals, through testimony, that authorities in different countries cooperated in more than 175 cases in so-called “chain refoulements” in which people were transferred across multiple borders until they are outside the EU. It could be from Italy or Austria through countries like Slovenia and Croatia to a third country like Bosnia and Herzegovina, the report says.
A large majority (1,216) of refoulements documented in the report occurred between Croatia and Bosnia. There have been 331 reported cases from Romania to Serbia and 285 from Hungary to Serbia. The report suggests that the actual numbers are likely much higher, as there are so many challenges in documenting these practices: for example, NGOs are banned from the Evros region to the Greece-Turkey land border. Some migrants are also reluctant to report refoulements because they fear it will affect their status or their possibilities to continue the movement. Others think the reports won’t make any difference.
Border management must be ‘rights-compliant’
The PRAB report recommends that an independent border monitoring mechanism be put in place to ensure that rights violations are properly monitored and that evidence of refoulement submitted by NGOs is reviewed in the future. “Good faith is not enough to ensure that border management complies with human rights,” he said.
The DRC and other civil society organizations that contributed to the report, including the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, the Greek Council for Refugees and the Italian refugee law and policy organization ASGI, say that while states have the right to control movements across their borders, this has in accordance with their international legal obligations. Countries are required by human rights law to ensure that people can seek asylum, and returning people as a means of protecting state borders is illegal.
Investigations are continuing into the alleged involvement of Frontex, the European border agency, in refoulement incidents, the report said. In April, new claims emerged that Frontex played a key role in ensuring that migrants were intercepted by the Libyan coast guard. The PRAB report argues that a lack of transparency surrounding Frontex’s role makes it difficult for the agency to be held accountable. In March, a Frontex investigation into allegations of push-backs in the Aegean Sea concluded that the incidents could not be resolved “beyond a reasonable doubt”.