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23rd Jul 2021

UN agency demands EU stop violence against migrants

  • Reports of beatings of people trying to enter Croatia are common (Photo: Danish Refugee Council)

Europe needs to stop violence against people seeking asylum, says an UN-related agency.

"The use of excessive force and violence against civilians is unjustifiable," said Eugenio Ambrosi from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in a statement on Wednesday (10 February).

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Ambrosi said the EU and its member states need to take urgent action against collective expulsions of people.

Severe beatings, theft, and humiliation of people by national authorities along some of the borders are not uncommon.

The IOM demand also comes amid mounting evidence and confirmed reports of preventing and forcing people back across borders.

Also known as pushbacks, such moves are illegal under both EU and international law.

Croatia alone is accused of having forced almost 2,000 people back into Bosnia and Herzegovina in a single month (October, 2020).

Hungary is also forcing thousands across into Serbia despite an EU court ruling in December telling them to stop.

Its national police force keeps a public and online record of the expulsions.

Greece also stands accused of collective expulsions, embroiling the EU's border agency Frontex in the alleged abuse amid calls for its executive director to resign.

It is unclear if the IOM call will be heeded by national authorities, given the tacit support for such policies over the years however.

Earlier this year, the Portuguese EU presidency announced more humanitarian attention needs to be given at the EU's external borders.

In reality, the issue is often seen as a numbers game that seeks to reduce arrivals to a minimum.

An estimated 97,000 border crossings were registered last year, the lowest in seven years.

At the time same, a spike in the number of people trying to flee north Africa increased by some 140 percent when compared to 2019.

Algeria increased by 200 percent, Tunisia 300 percent and Libya just under 60 percent.

Others also took off from Libya, risking apprehension by the Libyan Coast Guard, part bankrolled by the EU, and returned to a country embroiled in conflict.

All told, some 70,650 people tried to cross the Mediterranean last year. Of those, some 36,000 made it.

Meanwhile, in Croatia the Danish Refugee Council estimates there were over 20,000 pushbacks in a span of around one year.

The issue has prompted the European Commission to visit a border crossing point and one border section on 17 November.

That visit has since been followed by meetings, it says, with an aim to create an independent means to monitor the borders.

"We are expecting Croatian authorities to revert to us with a draft of the Memorandum of Understanding shortly," it said, in an email.

EU commissioner for home affairs Ylva Johansson also told MEPs last month that the document is "not a one off", promising on-going pressure and debate on the Croats.

But the commission did not respond when asked if it would initiate sanctions against Croatia, if it confirmed pushbacks were indeed taking place.

Meanwhile, Frontex pulled out of Hungary given the abuse against people seeking asylum.

A Hungarian spokesperson remained defiant, claiming the Warsaw-based agency did little to help anyway.

"We hope this is not a sign that some want to withhold funding from those countries that insist on protecting the borders," he said, in a tweet.

The European Commission has yet to receive any response from the Budapest for having ignored the ruling by the European Court of Justice.

The exchange of letters, first sent by the commission on 22 January, are part of lengthy legal procedures that are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

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