UN report on pushbacks sparks cautious EU response
The European Commission cannot yet respond to a United Nations report on the rights of illegal refoulements of migrants and refugees.
“We will have to complete our in-depth analysis of this report before giving more in-depth reactions,” a European Commission spokesperson told reporters on Friday (June 11th).
The 20-page report was written in mid-May by the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales.
“The practice of refoulements is widespread and exists along most migratory routes,” Morales said in his report.
“In many contexts, it has become a routine part of border governance, with serious negative impact,” he added.
While not focusing exclusively on the European Union, it links push-backs to a handful of member states, as well as to the EU’s border agency, Frontex.
This includes Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Poland and Spain.
Emphasizing why the European Commission is not taking any formal action, the spokesperson said it could not intervene in individual cases.
“Refoulement is illegal under EU law, any accusation of refoulement must be investigated by member states,” the spokesperson said.
However, the report accuses Italy of “collective expulsion”.
He asserts that Rome’s cooperation with Libya and its coast guards “has effectively enabled the ban on refoulement and collective expulsions to be circumvented”.
Some 60,000 people since 2016 have reportedly been intercepted and returned to Libya, mainly by Libyan national coast guards co-funded by the European Union.
It further notes the increased militarization of the Greek-Turkish land border, following the massive arrival of migrants and asylum seekers in March 2020.
Many were taken to the border by Turkish authorities, sparking a tense standoff with the Greeks.
But while the European Commission continues to use the word “suspected” on reported cases, the UN appears to have taken it at face value.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi made the remark last month during a press briefing with EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.
“We must stop the push-backs that are occurring all along the European Union’s external border,” he said.
In almost immediate follow-up, Johansson called them “suspected push-backs at the external borders”.
The European Commission has taken action.
He brought Hungary to the European Court of Justice in 2015.
In December, Luxembourg judges condemned Budapest for legalizing push-backs from areas along its border with Serbia.
The commission said it would ensure that the judgment is carried out.
But Hungary has since ignored him, citing the health security risks of Covid-19 as it continues to push people back to Serbia.
On Friday morning, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban appeared more and more militant.
“In the opinion of the Hungarian government, there is no good migration, there is only bad migration,” he told Kossuth Rádió in an interview.