22nd Jan 2022

12,000 illegal pushbacks this year 'tip of iceberg', says NGO

  • Border fence between Greece and North Macedonia (Photo: Vadim Ghirda)
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Almost 12,000 prospective asylum seekers in Europe were illegally forced back across a border in 2021, according to the Danish Refugee Council (DRC).

"That might be the tip of the iceberg here," Charlotte Slente, DRC's secretary-general, told EUobserver on Thursday (16 December).

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"Pushbacks are becoming acceptable, and to some degree, sort of approved by other members [EU states]," she said.

Such practices prevent people from being able to file for asylum or international protection in an EU country.

The Danish NGO, along with six other civil society organisations, documented the cases, noting for instance that some 6,000 took place between July to November 2021 alone.

They also point to Hungarian police statistics, citing over 11,000 pushbacks into Serbia in August. Those figures are not included in the overall findings by the NGOs because they only highlight the pushbacks they themselves documented.

The findings were revealed in their report out on Thursday , along with testimonies describing violence and physical abuse.

An Afghan minor is said to have vomited from the beatings received by the Croatian police. Others say they were forced to strip naked by Slovenian police.

Croatian pushbacks into Bosnia were among the most egregious in the 6,000 cases spanning July to November, posing questions on whether independent border monitors tasked to oversee rights are able to do their jobs.

Afghans fleeing persecution were the hardest hit, with around 1,700 saying they were forced back to Bosnia, notes the report.

Similar findings were uncovered in Croatia by the anti-torture committee at the human-rights watchdog, the Council of Europe, which said police were keeping hand-written logbooks of pushbacks.

Although most of the cases described in the Danish report involved single men, women and children also suffered abuse in a practice the European Commission has condemned in the past.

However, with migration and asylum increasingly framed as a "hybrid threat", the reactions and policy-decisions by national and EU authorities appear to condone the pushbacks.

Collective pushbacks are now allowed in Poland and Lithuania, for instance.

And earlier this month, the commission floated emergency measures allowing Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to bend asylum rules due to their border stand-off with Belarus.

Slente said the proposals looks like an "attempt to legitimise that some member states are unwilling to implement and respect the EU asylum acquis in general."

According to commission figures, as of 21 November, only 7,831 people managed to enter Latvia, Lithuania and Poland from Belarus.

Left-leaning and liberal MEPs this week also spoke out against those plans, noting the relatively small numbers.

"There's no need for such emergency measures," German centre-left MEP Birgit Sippel told the Strasbourg-plenary on Wednesday.

"This we feel would be harmful to the right of asylum," said French liberal MEP, Fabienne Keller.

"The commission stayed completely silent on the structural violation of the right to apply for asylum and instead of forcing the countries [Poland, Lithuania] to reverse the legislation," said Dutch Green MEP, Tineke Strik.

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