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EU Should Stop Illegal Migrant Pushbacks at its Borders

Reports With Video, Audio Confirm Violent Pushbacks

Migrants show broken phones in the village of Horgos, Serbia, January 28, 2020. © 2020 Darko Vojinovic/AP Photo

A new report, including disturbing video and audio evidence, shows security forces along European Union borders detaining migrants and asylum seekers at secret locations before forcing them back across borders. The report, released by collaborative journalism outfit Lighthouse Reports, primarily documented abuses occurring in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Croatia.

Since 2014, Human Rights Watch and others have documented violence and abuse against migrants and asylum seekers by border officials in Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary. People told us about shootings and beatings. They were held in crammed vans, outdoors, and at makeshift detention facilities for hours or even days without food or water before being taken back to the border and forced to cross. Women, men, and children told us that Bulgarian, Croatian, and Hungarian border officials took their shoes, bags, money, phones, and even food. Our earlier reports of shootings at the Bulgaria-Turkey border  provide corroborating evidence for Lighthouse Reports’ recently published video of Bulgarian border guards shooting a 19-year-old Syrian asylum seeker who tried entering Bulgaria in October.

Video from the latest report shows patrol cars from the EU border guard agency, Frontex, next to an unofficial Bulgarian detention site. I interviewed several migrants and asylum seekers over the years who talked about what they called “foreign guards” being present during pushbacks from Bulgaria and Hungary. A leaked report from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) in October shows how Frontex has acquiesced to Greece’s illegal pushbacks to Turkey, which we also documented in an April report.

Frontex should protect people from serious human rights violations, not the EU member states committing such abuses.

EU institutions have effectively turned a blind eye to the abuse and violence by border officials at EU’s external borders. The absence of any meaningful discussion on whether Croatia, Romania, and Bulgaria met human rights criteria at borders before deciding on their accession to the Schengen area, where border and passport controls are effectively abolished, is a worrying illustration. Additionally, the EU Commission’s funding of border management in these countries enables continuing abuses.

The EU Commission should withhold migration management funding to countries where abuses are documented. It should also call for Frontex to review and investigate serious allegations of abuses committed by border officials and witnessed by Frontex, make those findings public, and suspend operations where abuses continue. Given the evidence gathered by Lighthouse Reports and others, not doing so would raise serious questions of complicity.

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