Wednesday

28th Jul 2021

UN report on pushbacks draws cautious EU response

The European Commission cannot yet respond to a UN rights report on illegal pushbacks 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 (11 June).

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The 20-page report was drafted in mid-May by the UN's special rapporteur on human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales.

"The practice of pushbacks is widespread and exists along most migration routes," said Morales, in his report.

"In many contexts it has become a routine element of border governance, with a serious negative impact," he added.

Although it does not exclusively focus on the European Union, it does link pushbacks to a handful of member states, as well as the EU's border agency Frontex.

This includes Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Poland, and Spain.

Pressed on why the European Commission does not take any formal action, the spokesperson said it cannot intervene on individual cases.

"Pushbacks are illegal under EU law, any accusations of pushbacks need to be investigated by the member states," said the spokesperson.

The report, however, accuses Italy of "collective expulsion."

It says Rome's cooperation with Libya and its coast guard "has effectively resulted in the circumvention of the prohibition of refoulement and collective expulsion."

Some 60,000 people since 2016 are said to have been intercepted and returned to Libya, mostly by a Libyan national coast guard part-financed by the European Union.

It further notes the increased militarisation of the Greek-Turkey land border, following the large arrival of migrants and asylum seekers in March 2020.

Many were shuffled to the border by Turkish authorities, triggering a tense standoff with the Greeks.

But whereas the European Commission continues to use the word "alleged" on the reported cases, the UN appears to have taken it for face value.

United Nations high commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi made the point last month alongside a press briefing with EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson.

"We need to stop the pushbacks that are happening all along the external border of the European Union," he said.

In an almost immediate follow up, Johansson called them "alleged pushbacks at the external borders".

The European Commission has taken some action.

It took Hungary to the European Court of Justice in 2015.

In December, the Luxembourg-based judges ruled against Budapest for legalising pushbacks from zones along its border with Serbia.

The commission said it would ensure the judgement is enforced.

But Hungary has since ignored it, citing health security risks linked to Covid-19 as it continues to push people back into Serbia.

On Friday morning, Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban appeared increasingly militant.

"In the Hungarian government's view, there is no such thing as good migration, there is only bad migration," he told Kossuth Rádió, in an interview.

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

EU tribunal said Hungary's legislation made it "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application. Restricting access to international protection procedure is a violation of EU rules.

Hungary 'ignoring EU court ruling on asylum'

The European Court of Justice last month ruled Hungary had breached EU asylum laws. Budapest was told to stop pushing asylum seekers back into Serbia - yet nearly 2,500 people have been forced across the border since that judgement.

EU to scrutinise Hungary 'ignoring asylum ruling'

The European Court of Justice told Hungary in December to stop forcing asylum seekers back into Serbia. The European Commission is now demanding Budapest follow the judgement - but Hungary has since reintroduced a special legal order, under Covid-19.

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The EU has trained and equipped the Libyan Coast Guard. Those intercepted are then returned. Now Turkey has taken the lead, raising the stakes of possible leverage over the European Union as Ankara takes control of the route.

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Almost 500 undocumented migrants in Brussels have been demanding a legal pathway for residency in Belgium. Most have been on hunger strike since 23 May, with some now refusing water. MEPs are demanding the Belgian government offer them a solution.

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