Greece: Pushbacks and violence against refugees and migrants are de facto border policy
- Amnesty International reveals new evidence of torture, ill-treatment and illegal pushbacks of refugees and migrants to Turkey
- People apprehended and detained up to 700km away from the border before being transferred and returned at the land border with Turkey
- Amnesty calls on the EU border force Frontex to suspend or withdraw its Greek operations
- Spokespeople available
Greek border forces are violently and illegally detaining groups of refugees and migrants before summarily returning them to Turkey, in contravention of their human rights obligations under EU and international law, new research from Amnesty International has revealed.
The report, Greece: Violence, lies and pushbacks, documents how the Greek authorities are conducting illegal pushbacks at land and sea. It focuses primarily on unlawful operations in the Evros region, at the land border between Greece and Turkey. In February and March 2020, Greece violently pushed back refugees and migrants in response to Turkey’s unilateral opening of the land borders. By documenting incidents that occurred in the aftermath of those events, from June to December 2020, this new research demonstrates that human rights violations at Greece’s borders continue and have become an entrenched practice.
“Our research shows that violent pushbacks have become the de facto Greek border control policy in the Evros region. The level of organization needed to execute these returns, which affected around 1000 people in the incidents we documented, some numerous times and sometimes via unofficial detention sites, shows just how far Greece is going to illegally return people and cover it up.”
The vast majority of people Amnesty International spoke to reported that they had experienced or witnessed violence from people they described as uniformed Greek officials, as well as men in civilian clothing. This included blows with sticks or truncheons, kicks, punches, slaps, and pushes, sometimes resulting in severe injuries. Men were often subjected to humiliating and aggressive naked searches, sometimes in the sight of women and children.
In most cases, the acts of violence reported violated the international prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment. Some incidents also amounted to torture, due to their severity and humiliating or punitive intent.
Saif*, a 25-year-old Syrian man pushed back four times in August 2020, told Amnesty International that on his second attempt, the group he was travelling with was ambushed by “soldiers” in black gear and balaclavas and transferred to the banks of the Evros river, which runs across the Greek and Turkish border. Two people in the group tried to escape but were stopped and ruthlessly beaten by one of the soldiers. Saif, who suspected that the man’s spine had been broken, told Amnesty International: “He could not move at all, he could not even move his hands.” According to Saif, after soldiers took the two injured men across the river to Turkey, Turkish soldiers and an ambulance came to assist the injured.
One individual told Amnesty International that during one of the return operations, he and his group were forced off the boat and into the water near an islet in the middle of the Evros river, where they remained stranded for days. A man who was forced off the boat could not swim and screamed for help as he bobbed up and down in the water and was seen to be swept away with the current.
Pushbacks are not only taking place in border areas. People are also being apprehended and detained far into the Greek mainland before being returned to the Evros region to be illegally returned. Amnesty International spoke to four people who were arbitrarily apprehended and detained in areas of northern Greece and ultimately pushed back to Turkey in larger groups. Among them were a recognized refugee and a registered asylum seeker who had been living in mainland Greece for almost a year.
One of them, Nabil* a 31-year-old Syrian man and registered asylum-seeker in Greece told Amnesty International that he was arrested at the port in the city of Igoumenitsa, in North-western Greece. Police told him that he would be transferred to Athens and released, however he was then transferred to a second detention site closer to the Evros land border, beaten and ultimately pushed back in a group of 70 people, including children. He told Amnesty International: “Before I entered the bus, I showed the police my asylum card, but they took it from me, shredded it, and told me to get into the bus.”
Years after Amnesty International first reported pushbacks of refugees and migrants from Greece in 2013, Greece is still violently and illegally returning people to Turkey, in contravention of their human rights obligations under EU and international law. Amnesty International documented 21 new incidents of summary, unlawful returns from Greece to Turkey, often accompanied by arbitrary detention and violence, in some case amounting to torture. The EU has also repeatedly failed to hold Greece to account for these serious violations, ultimately reinforcing the practice and tacitly giving permission for it to continue by way of inaction.
CROATIAN POLICE ACCUSED OF ”SICKENING” ASSAULTS ON
MIGRANTS ON BALKANS TRAIL
[PAS OP, AKELIGE FOTO’S!]
Testimony from asylum seekers alleging brutal border pushbacks, including sexual abuse, adds to calls for EU to investigate
People on the Balkans migrant trail have allegedly been whipped, robbed and, in one case, sexually abused by members of the Croatian police.
The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) has documented a series of brutal pushbacks on the Bosnia-Croatian border involving dozens of asylum seekers between 12 and 16 October.
The Guardian has obtained photographs and medical reports that support the accounts, described by aid workers as “sickening” and “shocking”.
“The testimonies collected from victims of pushbacks are horrifying,’’ said Charlotte Slente, DRC secretary general. “More than 75 persons in one week have all independently reported inhumane treatment, savage beatings and even sexual abuse.’’
According to migrants’ accounts, the pushbacks occurred in Croatian territory over the border from Velika Kladuša in Bosnia, close to Šiljkovača – a tented forest settlement of around 700 refugees and migrants.
“All of the persons interviewed by DRC bore visible injuries from beatings (bruises and cuts), as a result of alleged Croatian police violence,” reads the DRC report. “According to the statements provided by interviewed victims (with visible evidence of their injuries), pushbacks included brutal and extremely violent behaviour, degrading treatment, and theft and destruction of personal belongings.” One of the testimonies includes a report of serious sexual abuse.
On 12 October, five Afghans, including two minors, crossed the Croatian border near the Šturlić settlement. On the same day, near Novo Selo, an uniformed police officer stopped them and then called two more officers. One of the migrants ran, and the other four were detained at a police station. Two days later they were taken to court, where they say they were to “appear as witnesses in the case launched against the fifth member of the group – the one who escaped”, who had been accused of violent behaviour towards police.
The asylum seekers told the DRC that the original officers then took them “to some unknown location, where they were put in a van in the charge of 10 armed people, dressed in black and with full face balaclavas, army boots and with flashlights on their foreheads”. Their money was taken, their belongings torched and they were ordered to strip to their underwear. The migrants allege that they were forced to lie face down on the ground.
“One man in black was standing on the victim’s hands, preventing any movements,” reads the report. “Legs were also restrained. Once the person was hampered, the beating started. They were punched, kicked, whipped and beaten.” Medical reports confirm that migrants’ injuries are consistent with the use of a whip.
One migrant, MK, says at this point he was sexually assaulted by a man using a branch.
Mustafa Hodžić, a doctor in Velika Kladuša, examined the man. “The patient had wounds all over the back of his body, on his back and legs. I can confirm the signs of clear sexual violence … I have never seen anything like it. Even if it isn’t the first time as a doctor [that] I have seen signs of sexual violence on migrants, which, according the asylum seekers’ accounts, were perpetrated on Croatian territory by Croatian officials dressed in black uniforms.”
One Pakistani migrant told of being intercepted with two others near Croatia’s Blata railway station. The police allegedly ordered them to strip naked before loading them into a van and taking them to a sort of garage, where five other migrants were waiting to be sent back to Bosnia. Awaiting their arrival were men dressed in black.
“They started to beat us with batons, and the third one took his mobile phone and took a selfie with us without clothes,” the Pakistani man said. “The first four of us were on the ground, and we lay next to each other, naked and beaten, and the other four were ordered to lie on us, like when trees are stacked, so we lay motionless for 20 minutes. The last one was a minor. He was from the other group; I saw when the police officer ask him where he was from. He tried to say that he is a minor. He was beaten a lot, and when it was his turn to take off his clothes, he was beaten even more.”
One man added: “A minor from the second group fainted after many blows. His friends took him in their arms, and one of the police officers ordered them to lay him down on the ground. Then they started hitting them with batons. Before the deportation, police told us: ‘We don’t care where you are from or if you will return to Bosnia or to your country, but you will not go to Croatia. Now you have all your arms and legs because we were careful how we hit you. Next time it will be worse’.’’
Small groups of asylum seekers attempt to cross from Bosnia into Croatia nightly on the migrant trail into western Europe. The EU’s longest internal border, it is patrolled by police armed with truncheons, pistols and night vision goggles. Aid workers, doctors, border guards and UN officials have documented systematic abuse and violence perpetrated along the border stretch for several years.
Last May, the Guardian documented a case of more than 30 migrants who were allegedly robbed and had their heads spray painted with red crosses by Croatian officers.
The UNHCR has asked the Croatian government to set up an independent assessment of the border situation.
The details of the latest pushback are in a report that the DRC has shared with the European commission, which has yet to investigate.
‘’The Croatian government and the European commission must act to put a stop to the systematic use of violence,” said Slente. ‘’Treating human beings like this, inflicting severe pain and causing unnecessary suffering, irrespective of their migratory status, cannot and should not be accepted by any European country, or by any EU institution. There is an urgent need to ensure that independent border monitoring mechanisms are in place to prevent these abuses.”
Croatian police and the ministry of the interior have not responded to requests for comment.
In June, the Guardian revealed EU officials were accused of an “outrageous cover-up” for withholding evidence of the Croatian government’s failure to supervise border forces. Internal emails showed Brussels officials were fearful of full disclosure of Croatia’s lack of commitment to a monitoring mechanism that EU ministers had agreed to fund.
In January, a commission official warned a colleague that Croatia’s failure to use money earmarked two years ago for border police “will for sure be seen as a scandal”.
The recent accusations come as the commission presented its final report on the grant, in which Croatia asserted that the co-financing project had “helped make the implementation of activities of border surveillance more conscientious and of higher quality, with emphasis on the respect of migrants’ rights guaranteed under international, European and national legislation”.
Regarding allegations of abuse, Croatian authorities stated: “Every single [piece of] information and every single complaint was inspected in the process called internal control. We did not establish that the police officers committed any criminal or disciplinary offence in any of the cases.”
Clare Daly, an Irish MEP, is among those who have raised concerns in Brussels. “The blood of these people, so horrifically mistreated on the Croatian border, is on the hands of the European commission. They have enabled this violation of fundamental rights by ignoring the facts presented to them by NGOs and MEPs that all was not well. They turned a blind eye time and again, and now these horrible events have occurred again, even worse than before.”
She added: “The last time such behaviour occurred, the commission rewarded Croatia with an extra grant even bigger than the first one, and said they were happy with how the funds had been spent … when is someone going to be held accountable for these crimes against humanity?”
CROSSES ON OUR HEADS TO ”CURE” COVID 19:
REFUGEES REPORT ABUSE BY CROATIAN POLICE
[PAS OP, NARE FOTO’S]
Group of asylum seekers including minors say they were beaten and spray-painted near the border with Bosnia, as calls grow for EU to investigate’
Details have emerged of more than 30 migrants allegedly robbed, beaten and spray-painted with red crosses on their heads by Croatian police officers who said the treatment was the “cure against coronavirus”.
The Guardian has interviewed asylum seekers, obtained photographs and collected dozens of testimonies, including from minors, revealing how the Croatian authorities were laughing and drinking beer while spray-painting migrants attempting to cross the border from Bosnia-Herzegovina, as EU parliamentarians have now begun pushing for an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the abuses.
According to migrants’ accounts, confirmed by numerous charities, at least two groups of migrants were apprehended by military personnel and handed over to police between 6 and 7 May near the Slovenian border, on route 61 in the area of Rijeka.
“We were caught at 3am by a couple of military guys in a green uniform,” said a migrant from Pakistan. “They searched us to make sure we were not smuggling anything and then they called the police. A police van with four officers in black uniforms arrived. They crammed us into the van and took us to a police station where we were photographed. They made us sign some paper. We asked for asylum but they told us to shut up.”
That night at the police station, Croatian officers would have allegedly taken in dozens of asylum seekers, predominantly from Pakistan and Afghanistan, who were captured in different locations. Following these events, about 4pm on 7 May the Croatian police allegedly piled them into four vans and drove them near to the border with Bosnia.
“Our group was in a van with a glass partition from which I saw the van stop at a store where they bought beer,” said another man from Pakistan. “They were drinking along the way before we stopped near a small river close to Velika Kladuša.”
According to the migrants, that is where the abuse began. The police allegedly asked them to get out of the van one by one. Then, with a spray can, they began painting crosses on their heads and faces.
“They made crosses on our heads and on some guys they coloured their moustaches or foreheads,” said an asylum seeker. “They then made us take off our clothes and shoes, took our money and mobile phones and set fire to our clothes and belongings. Around 10 of them stood in a line and made us walk past them while they beat us with wooden sticks and police batons. After this they pushed us into the river and told us not to come back.”
Of the 33 people interviewed by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), one of the main responders providing healthcare for migrants in Bosnia-Herzegovina, “29 reported being beaten with police batons. A family of two people (father and son) reported being forced to place their heads between the body and the door of a police vehicle, while police officers kicked the vehicle door. The family further reported that the Croatian police fired at them (7 shots) after they had swum across the river to Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
All of the refugees interviewed by the DRC reported having crosses sprayed on their heads with orange or red paint by Croatian police before being forced across the border to Bosnia-Herzegovina. “One group of 11 persons (including an unaccompanied minor) reported that police were drinking beer while ‘marking’ and beating them – beer which they had stopped to buy at a store while they were driving to the border,” said the DRC.
In another case involving four people, interviewees reported Croatian police telling them “this is a medicine for corona”, while painting their heads with crosses. The family of two (a father with his son, a minor) reported that police officers were laughing while spray-painting their heads.
The group of four said that the abuse took place near the village of Glinica; the family of two maintained they were abused on the other side of the border from the village of Sturlic, both in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“We cannot speculate as to the reasons behind this practice,” said Nicola Bay, the DRC country director for Bosnia. “What is clear however is that ‘branding’ humans with painted crosses is an extreme example of abusive and degrading treatment of people attempting to cross the border to Croatia. While these incidents are truly shocking, they unfortunately seem to fall into a pattern of abuse consistently reported by refugees and migrants attempting to cross the border between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia.”
In April alone, DRC teams in Bosnia-Herzegovina recorded 1,641 cases of refugees and migrants pushed back to Bosnia from Croatia. Of these, 891 reported being subjected to violence or physical assault; 1,253 reported having their belongings confiscated or destroyed (set on fire); 871 people said they’d had identity documents confiscated or destroyed by Croatian police; 445 people said they had been denied access to asylum procedures in Croatia, despite having explicitly requested it.
Contacted by the Guardian, the Croatian police and the Croatian interior ministry did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
However, after the Guardian reported the Croatian police’s spray-painting of migrants on 12 May, the country’s interior minister drafted a lengthy rebuttal on the ministry’s website, calling the allegations “completely absurd” and accusing the Guardian of organising a “pre-meditated attack against the Republic of Croatia”.
Following that report, a group of EU parliamentarians in Brussels is pushing for an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the abuses. “We believe the European Commission should join the investigation efforts of the UN to stop the alleged abuse and hold the perpetrators accountable for their actions,” reads an internal memo circulating among MEPs. “If these allegations prove to be true, this is a serious case of abuse and in clear violation of the Schengen Border Code. In view of the seriousness of the allegations, we expect the Commission to undertake swift and thorough action in order to answer these questions, and to inform the European Parliament as soon as possible.”
The very fact that of the €6.7m (£6m) which was given (by the EU) to Croatia to deal with border issues, only a paltry €300,000 was given for an independent monitoring mechanism to oversee and ensure that human rights and international law was being upheld, shows the priorities,” said Irish MEP Clare Daly, a member of Independents 4 Change. “They have, in essence, enabled the Croatian authorities and are therefore culpable in the latest round of vicious abuse and unlawful pushbacks. It is an utter scandal, a shameful abandonment of everything they claim to stand over in terms of respect for fundamental rights. Shame on them.”
Despite the protests of journalists, charities and even the UNHCR, all calling for an investigation into the alleged abuses of migrants at the hands of the Croatian police, the EU has not intervened.
“The only conclusion you can reach about why they are silent is that as long as the borders are reinforced, then human rights obligations can be conveniently ignored,’’ said Daly. “For business reasons they are keen on the extension of Schengen and if refugees and migrants are sacrificed in delivering that then clearly for them, so be it. It makes me sick and ashamed to be a member of an EU which would operate in this way. I have no doubt whatsoever that the commission is fully aware that the allegations are correct and they have sacrificed refugees and migrants and their obligations under international law, in the interests of extending Schengen for big business & geo-political reasons. [They] will not be allowed to get away with this, accountability must prevail, or the EU is over.”
In an email the Croatian Ministry of the Interior denied police had acted violently towards migrants, but added that “an extensive investigation of the allegations” would be conducted.
The email suggested migrants could have fabricated the news. “We find it highly probable that thousands of migrants are ready to use all means at their disposal to accomplish their goal, including giving false testimonies against police officers,” it said. “When lacking evidence, the simplest and easiest thing to do is to fabricate events which never happened or to portray real events in a distorted manner.”
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
CROATIA: MIGRANTS PUSHED BACK TO CROATIA AND HERZEGOWINA
(Budapest) – Croatian police are pushing migrants and asylum seekers back to Bosnia and Herzegovina, in some cases violently, and without giving them the possibility to seek asylum, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 20 people, including 11 heads of families and 1 unaccompanied boy, who said that Croatian police deported them to Bosnia and Herzegovina without due process after detaining them deep inside Croatian territory. Sixteen, including women and children, said police beat them with batons, kicked and punched them, stole their money, and either stole or destroyed their mobile phones.
“Croatia has an obligation to protect asylum seekers and migrants,” said Lydia Gall, Balkans and Eastern EU researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, the Croatian police viciously beat asylum seekers and pushed them back over the border.”
All 20 interviewees gave detailed accounts of being detained by people who either identified themselves as Croatian police or wore uniforms matching those worn by Croatian police. Seventeen gave consistent descriptions of the police vans used to transport them to the border. One mother and daughter were transported in what they described as a police car. Two people said that police had fired shots in the air, and five said that the police were wearing masks.
These findings confirm mounting evidence of abuse at Croatia’s external borders, Human Rights Watch said. In December 2016, Human Rights Watch documented similar abuses by Croatian police at Croatia’s border with Serbia. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in August 2018 that it had received reports Croatia had summarily pushed back 2,500 migrants and asylum seekers to Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina since the beginning of the year, at times accompanied by violence and theft.
In response to a call by the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner to investigate the allegations, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in September denied any wrongdoing and questioned the sources of the information. Police in Donji Lapac, on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, refused to provide Croatia’s ombudswoman, Lora Vidović, access to police records on treatment of migrants and told her that police are acting in accordance with the law.
In a December 4 letter, Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic responded to a detailed description of the Human Rights Watch findings. He said that the evidence of summary returns and violence was insufficient to bring criminal prosecutions, that the allegations could not be confirmed, and that migrants accuse Croatian police in the hope that it will help them enter Croatia. He said that his ministry does not support any type of violence or intolerance by police officers.
Croatia has a bilateral readmission agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina that allows Croatia to return third-country nationals without legal permission to stay in the country. According to the Security Ministry of Bosnia and Herzegovina, under the agreement, between January and November 27, Croatia returned 493 people to Bosnia and Herzegovina, 265 of whom were Turkish nationals. None of the people Human Rights Watch interviewed underwent any formal return procedure before being forced back over the border.
The summary return of asylum seekers without consideration of their protection needs is contrary to European Union asylum law, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Croatian authorities should conduct thorough and transparent investigations of abuse implicating their officials and hold those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said. They should ensure full cooperation with the Ombudswoman’s inquiry, as required by national law and best practice for independent human rights institutions. The European Commission should call on Croatia, an EU member state, to halt and investigate summary returns of asylum seekers to Bosnia and Herzegovina and allegations of violence against asylum seekers. The Commission should also open legal proceedings against Croatia for violating EU laws, Human Rights Watch said.
As a result of the 2016 border closures on the Western Balkan route, thousands of asylum seekers were stranded, the majority in Serbia, and found new routes toward the EU. In 2018, migrant and asylum seeker arrivals increased in Bosnia and Herzegovina, from fewer than 1,000 in 2017 to approximately 22,400, according to the European Commission. The Commission estimates that 6,000 migrants and asylum seekers are currently in the country. Bosnia and Herzegovina has granted international protection to only 17 people since 2008. In 2017, 381 people applied for asylum there.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has only one official reception center for asylum seekers near Sarajevo, with capacity to accommodate just 156 people. Asylum seekers and migrants in the border towns of Bihac and Velika Kladusa, where Human Rights Watch conducted the interviews, are housed in temporary facilities managed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – a dilapidated building, a refurbished warehouse, and former hotels – or they sleep outdoors. The IOM and UNHCR have been improving the facilities. The EU has allocated over €9 million to support humanitarian assistance for asylum seekers and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Just because the EU is sending humanitarian aid to refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that does not justify turning a blind eye to violence at the Croatian border,” Gall said. “Brussels should press Zagreb to comply with EU law, investigate alleged abuse, and provide fair and efficient access to asylum.”
For detailed accounts by the people interviewed, please see below.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 13 men, 6 women, and one 15-year-old unaccompanied boy. All interviewees’ names have been changed in order to protect their security and privacy. All interviews were conducted in English or with the aid of a Persian or Arabic speaking interpreter. Human Rights Watch informed interviewees of the purpose of the interview and its voluntary nature, and they verbally consented to be interviewed.
Denied Access to Asylum Procedure, Summarily Returned
All 20 people interviewed said that people who identified themselves as Croatian police or whom they described as police detained them well inside Croatian territory and subsequently returned them to Bosnia and Herzegovina without any consideration of asylum claims or human rights obstacles to their return.
Nine said that police detained them and others and took them to a police station in Croatia. The others said that police officers took them directly to the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina and made them cross.
Those taken to police stations said they were searched, photographed, and questioned about details such as their name, country of origin, age, and their route entering Croatia. They were not given copies of any forms. They said they were held there in rooms with limited or no seating for between 2 and 24 hours, then taken to the border. Three people said they asked for asylum at the police station but that the police ignored or laughed at them. Six others said they dared not speak because police officers told them to remain quiet.
Faven F. and Kidane K., a married couple in their thirties from Eritrea, said they had been walking for seven days when they were detained on November 9, close to Rijeka, 200 kilometers from the border. They said that four men in green uniforms detained them in the forest and took them in a windowless white van without proper seats to a police station in Rijeka:
They delivered us to new police. One was in plain clothes, the other one in dark blue uniform that said “Policija” on it…. At the station, they gave us a paper in English where we had to fill in name, surname, and place of birth…. A lady officer asked us questions about our trip, how we got there, who helped us. We told them that if Croatia can give us asylum, we would like to stay. The lady officer just laughed. They wrote our names on a white paper and some number and made us hold them for a mug shot. Then they kept us in the cell the whole night and didn’t give us food, but we could drink tap water in the bathroom.
Yaran Y., a 19-year-old from Iraq, was carrying his 14-year old sister Dilva, who has a disability and uses a wheelchair, on his back when they were detained along with at least five others at night in the forest. Yaran Y. said he told officers he wanted asylum for his sister, but that the police just laughed. “They told us to go to Brazil and ask for asylum there,” Yaran Y. said.
Ardashir A., a 33-year-old Iranian, was travelling with his wife and 7-year-old daughter in a group of 18 people, including 3 other children, the youngest of whom is under age 2. He said that Croatian police detained the group 12 kilometers inside Croatian territory on November 15 and took them to a police station:
They [Croatian police] brought us to a room, like a prison. They took our bags and gave us only a few slices of bread. There were no chairs, we sat on the floor. Two people in civilian clothes came after a while, I don’t know if they were police, but they took a group picture of us and refused to let us go to the toilet. A 10-year-old child really needed to go but wasn’t allowed so he had to endure. After two hours they took us … to the border.
Adal A., a 15-year-old boy from Afghanistan traveling on his own said that he was detained on November 15 near Zagreb and taken in a white windowless van to a police station:
They searched us at the police station and took our phones, power banks, bags, and everything we had. They took three kinds of pictures: front, side, and back. We had to hold a paper with a number. I was asked questions about my name, where I am from, my age, and about the smuggler. I told them I’m 15. We then sat in a room for 24 hours and received no food but could get water from the tap in the toilet.
Palmira P., a 45-year-old Iranian, said that a female police officer mistreated Palmira’s 11-year-old daughter during a body search in a police station courtyard on the outskirts of Rijeka in early November: “She pulled my daughter’s pants down in front of everyone. My daughter still has nightmares about this policewoman, screaming out in the middle of the night, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it!’”
Everyone interviewed said that Croatian police confiscated and never returned or destroyed their phones and destroyed power banks and phone chargers. Four people said that Croatian police forced them to unlock their phones before stealing them.
Madhara M., a 32-year-old from Iran, said a police officer found a €500 bill in his pocket on November 15: “He looked at it, inspected it, and admired it and then demonstratively put it in his pocket in front of me.”
Accounts of Violence and Abuse
Seventeen people described agonizing journeys ranging from 15 minutes to five hours in windowless white police vans to the border. In two cases, people described the vans with a deep dark blue/black stripe running through the middle and a police light on top. A Human Rights Watch researcher saw a police van matching that description while driving through Croatia.
Croatian roads close to the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina cross windy, mountainous terrain. People interviewed said they had experienced nausea, vomited, or felt extreme cold or heat in the van. A 23-year-old Syrian woman said she believed the difficult van ride and pushback caused her to miscarry her 7-week pregnancy. Amez A., a 28-year-old Iraqi, said police sprayed what he thought was teargas into the van before closing the back doors and driving off, making everyone in the car vomit and have difficulty breathing.
Sixteen people, including women and children, said that they were slapped, pummelled with fists, beaten with police batons made of rubber or wood, or kicked by people they described as or who identified themselves as Croatian police during the pushbacks.
In many cases, the violence was accompanied by abusive language in English. Human Rights Watch observed marks and bruises on nine people and viewed photographs of injuries on four more who said they were the result of beatings by Croatian police officers. Four people said that they required treatment at Bosnian hospitals.
Adal A., the 15-year-old unaccompanied boy, described a particularly vicious beating on November 16:
They wore dark blue uniforms with masks, and as I exited the van, both police hit me with their batons. I felt a blow to my neck and I fell forward and wanted to get up. At that point, I was on the Bosnian side of the border stones, where another six Croatian police officers stood waiting. They were all over me, beating me. I don’t know how they beat me, but it was hard and strong, and I tried to protect my face. I was so badly beaten on my back that I still can’t sleep on it properly because of the pain. When they saw that my nose was bleeding, and that my hand was injured and that I couldn’t walk, they stopped…. They yelled “Go!” and as I was trying to leave, they fired guns in the air.
Human Rights Watch interviewed Adal A. four days after he said this had happened and observed marks and bruises on his legs and arms.
Aftab A., 37, from Iran, said that police officers in dark blue uniforms beat him and his 12-year-old son in what he called the “Tunnel of Death:”
They [police] make this tunnel [lined up on each side] and you have to pass. They took us out of the van one by one and they started beating me with batons from both sides. I was beaten on my arm, shoulder, and on my knee with batons. My son was beaten with batons on his back and on his head…We kept screaming ‘my son my son!’ or ‘my dad my dad!’ but they didn’t care. They kept beating at us until we crossed the border. Even my wife was struck across her back with a baton. The child was so scared and was crying for half an hour and then wouldn’t speak for a long time.
Madhara M., 32, from Iran, was taken to the border on November 15 along with four others, including a married couple. He said that Croatian police beat him and then threw him into a ditch he said separates Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina:
There were about eight police officers in front of the van. But there were more behind them making sure we can’t run away. The first punch broke my tooth… I fell, and the officer rolled me over, and punched me in the eye. It was so painful, I tried to escape by crawling, but the police struck me with the baton on my back. Suddenly, I received a second blow on the same eye. Then the police officers grabbed me and threw me into the ditch. All along, they were laughing and swearing in English, things like ‘I will fuck your mother.’
Bahadur B. and Nabila N., both 32 and from Iran, are a married couple who were traveling with Madhara M. Nabila N., who was three-months’ pregnant at the time, described the violence at the border:
They [Croatian police] were standing four on one side and four on the other side. We call it the ‘terror tunnel.’ They told us to get out. Bahadur tried to help me down from the van, as I was stiff from the ride. When he did, the police started beating him…I turned and screamed at them to stop beating my husband, but…. I stumbled on a bag in the darkness…When I got up, I was face-to-face with a police officer who was wearing a mask. I kept screaming, “Please don’t do it, we will leave” but he deliberately hit me hard with his baton across my hand. I kept screaming “baby, baby!” during the whole ordeal but they didn’t listen, they just laughed.
Both Yaran Y., 19, and his sister Dilva, 14, who has a physical disability, said they required medical treatment after Croatian police used physical force during the pushback in early July. Yaran Y. said:
I was carrying Dilva on my back the whole way while others pushed her wheelchair. Our family travelled with five other people. It was dark, when the police surprised us by firing shots in the air. They police wore dark or black color uniforms and there were six or seven of them. I asked one of the police officers for asylum but he harshly pushed me so I fell with my sister on my back. In the fall, my sister and I landed on a sharp wooden log which severely injured her foot and my hand.
A Human Rights Watch researcher observed scars on Dilva’s foot and Yaran’s hand and saw pictures of the fresh injuries.
Sirvan S., 38, from Iraq, said Croatian police in dark blue uniforms beat him and his youngest son, age 6, during a pushback on November 14: “My son and I were beaten with a rubber baton. I was beaten in the head and on my leg. My son was beaten with a baton on his leg and head as well as he was running from the police.” Sirvan’s wife, 16-year-old daughter, and 14-year-old son witnessed the violence.’
Gorkem G., 30, travelling with his 25-year-old pregnant wife, 5-year-old son, and 2-year-old daughter, said that Croatian police pushed his son, so he fell hard to the ground. “He only wanted to say “hi” to the police,” Gorkem G. said
Family members described the anger, frustration, and trauma they experienced seeing the police officers beat their loved ones. A 10-year-old Yazidi boy from Iraq said, “I saw how police kicked my father in his back and how they beat him all over. It made me angry.” His father, Hussein H., said that police officers had dragged him out of the van at the border and kicked and punched him when he was on the ground.
Fatima F., 34, a Syrian mother of six, travelled with her husband’s 16-year-old brother and three of her children, ages 2, 4, and 10. She said that three police officers in dark uniforms beat her husband’s brother in front of her and her children:
They were merciless […] One officer was by the van, one in the middle of the line of people, and one close to the path [into Bosnia and Herzegovina]. They kept beating the others with batons, and kicking. They [the officers] saw me and the kids but they just kept beating the men despite the kids crying. They didn’t beat me or the children, but the children were very afraid when they saw the men being beaten. My oldest girl kept screaming when she saw my husband’s brother get beaten…[she] screams out in the middle of the night.
In three cases, people said they were forced to cross ice-cold rivers or streams even though they were near a bridge.
Thirty-year-old Abu Hassan A. from Iran, travelling in a group of seven other single men, said:
They [police] were wearing masks. There was a bridge about 50-60 meters away. More than six police were guarding the bridge. It [the stream] was about 5-6 meters wide and waist high and muddy. They told us we have to cross. Then the police… beat me with batons and kicked me, and the first handed me over to the second police who did the same thing, and then handed me over to the third, who did the same thing. After that, I was close to the riverbank, where two other police were waiting. The first one beat me again with baton and pushed me toward the other. They beat me on the legs, hands, arms, shoulders. This is what they did to force us to go into the water and across. I could barely stand or walk for a week after.
EINDE BERICHT HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
EINDE BERICHT HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
”In April, the Guardian revealed how a woman from Afghanistan was allegedly sexually abused and held at knifepoint by a Croatian border police officer during a search of migrants on the border with Bosnia.”
European and international nongovernmental groups, including Human Rights Watch, and media outlets have consistently reported abuses— by officials from EU member states against people arriving at EU borders where Frontex is operating. These include violence, illegal pushbacks, and denial of access to asylum by countries including Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, and Malta. ”
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
FRONTEX FAILING TO PROTECT PEOPLE
AT EU BORDERS
(Brussels) – The European Union border guard agency’s oversight mechanisms have failed to safeguard people against serious human rights violations at the EU’s external borders, Human Rights Watch said today.
An analysis of the actions of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, known as Frontex, shows a pattern of failure to credibly investigate or take steps to mitigate abuses against migrants at EU external borders, even in the face of clear evidence of rights violations.
“Frontex has repeatedly failed to take effective action when allegations of human rights violations are brought to its attention,” said Eva Cossé, Western Europe researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Its rapid growth into an executive agency of the EU, with increased powers, funding, and legal responsibilities makes it all the more urgent for Frontex to put in place effective tools to safeguard fundamental rights.”
Human Rights Watch has examined in detail the situation in three countries where Frontex has major operations and where it failed to act promptly or at all in the face of credible evidence of abuse. On June 8, 2021, Human Rights Watch wrote to Frontex with its findings with the intention of including its response in the report but has yet to receive a response.
European and international nongovernmental groups, including Human Rights Watch, and media outlets have consistently reported abuses— by officials from EU member states against people arriving at EU borders where Frontex is operating. These include violence, illegal pushbacks, and denial of access to asylum by countries including Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, and Malta.
On June 23 Amnesty International is releasing related research on pushbacks from Greece to Turkey, which also includes a call for accountability for Frontex.
Frontex has seven oversight, reporting, and monitoring mechanisms with the stated purpose of ensuring that its officers do not engage in abuse, are held accountable if they do, and are not complicit in abuse by EU member states. They include a system to report serious incidents that has recorded a few incidents but failed to prevent abuse, and hold those responsible accountable. Under Article 46 of the Frontex Regulation, the agency also has a duty to suspend or terminate operations in case of serious abuses, but has only done so once, in Hungary, after a European court ruling.
In Greece, evidence has come to light since October 2020 that Frontex played an active role in concealing and supporting pushbacks of migrants at the land and maritime borders with Turkey. Frontex also went ahead with a rapid border operation (RABIT) in Greece in March 2020, although the Greek authorities had openly put abusive measures in place. These included temporarily suspending access to asylum, prosecuting asylum seekers for irregular entry, and violently forcing them back across the border.
Responding to widely reported allegations of Frontex involvement in illegal pushbacks, the Frontex Management Board created a Working Group in November 2020, consisting of 8 country representatives and the European Commission, to investigate 13 reported incidents in the Aegean Sea maritime border with Turkey. The group reported in March 2021 that there had been no wrongdoing by Greece or Frontex, despite clear evidence to the contrary. It also failed to look into other abuses by Greek authorities in areas where Frontex is operating, including violent pushbacks at Greece’s land border with Turkey.
In Hungary, Frontex failed for four years to take measures to prevent or stop human rights violations, despite reports from the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) about Hungary’s abusive treatment of asylum seekers and migrants, calls from Frontex’s own consultative forum on fundamental rights to suspend operations, and legal action by the European Commission against Hungary. Frontex suspended operations only after the EU Court of Justice found in December 2020 that Hungary was breaking EU law.
In Croatia, Frontex maintains its presence despite credible and consistent reports by Human Rights Watch and others of pushbacks, often violent, of migrants and asylum seekers into Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia since 2016.
As an EU agency, Frontex is bound to carry out all its operations consistent with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (including the right to asylum), the European Convention on Human Rights, and other norms of international law. Human rights law obliges Frontex not to expose anyone to human rights abuse either directly or indirectly and to take necessary measures to protect people from prohibited ill-treatment. Frontex’s own mandate, deriving from the Frontex Regulation, requires all personnel deployed in its operations to respect fundamental rights.
Frontex’s Management Board has expressed concern about the effectiveness of its reporting and monitoring mechanisms, and called for urgent improvements. Similarly, on June 15, the EU Ombudsman published a report that was critical of the functioning of the agency’s complaints mechanism and the role of its fundamental rights officer and made recommendations for reform. The European Parliament is also investigating Frontex operations.
“The European Union and its member states have a collective responsibility to ensure that Frontex operates in accordance with EU and international human rights law standards,” Cossé said. “That can’t happen unless Frontex avoids participation or complicity in abuses and its officials are held to account if they abuse people or put their rights at risk.”
For detailed analysis and recommendations, please see below.
Frontex was founded in 2004 as a European Union border enforcement and management agency. Its duties include enforcing migration control at the EU’s external borders.
Initially, Frontex played a coordinating role, using seconded officers to support member states at EU external borders. Over the last 15 years, its authority has significantly expanded. Its budget has skyrocketed, from 118 million euro in 2011 to 460 million euro in 2020, and is expected to average 800 million euro a year over the next seven years. In 2019 it was given a mandate to set up a standing corps of 10,000 border guards by 2027, giving it significant executive powers.
Frontex is active in numerous joint operations along EU external borders, including in the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkans, working closely with both EU and non-EU states.
For the purpose of this report, Human Rights Watch used its previous on-the-ground research in Croatia, Greece, and Hungary documenting abuses taking place at the external borders of those states. It analyzed Frontex’s oversight, reporting, and monitoring mechanisms in operations in those and other countries. Human Rights Watch also reviewed the documents from Frontex and related bodies, and reports and other documents from non-governmental organizations, media organizations, and academics.
The resulting recommendations apply to all places where Frontex is present, including in aerial surveillance operations and cooperation with Libya’s coast guard.
Frontex Under Scrutiny
In October 2020, a joint media investigation concluded that Frontex may have been complicit in human rights violations at the Greek-Turkish maritime border, in the Aegean Sea. It documented six instances between March and August 2020 in which Frontex was either in close proximity to a pushback or directly involved. Journalists reported that asylum seekers and migrants were prevented from reaching EU soil or were forced out of EU waters, in breach of EU and international law.
The allegations of the agency’s complicity in these pushbacks and the serious shortcomings of its reporting and monitoring mechanisms, as well as other concerns about Frontex have led to multiple ongoing investigations by EU bodies: the European Parliament, the European Ombudsman, and the European Anti-Fraud Office.
Frontex has also been accused of enabling the Libyan Coast Guard to intercept migrants in the Central Mediterranean, and then take them back to Libya, where they face nightmarish detention conditions. A joint media investigation reported in April 2021 that since January 2020, Frontex aircraft had flown over migrant boats in at least 20 cases, before Libya’s coast guard intercepted them and towed them back to Libya. Frontex has also been involved in training Libya’s coast guard.
Over the years, Frontex has relied on its coordinating role and lack of executive authority to evade human rights responsibility. In December 2020 Frontex Executive Director Fabrice Leggeri told the European Parliament there was no evidence of Frontex’s involvement in abuses in the Aegean and that only member states had the authority to make operational decisions, implying that Frontex could not be held responsible.
A 2011 investigation by Human Rights Watch into Frontex operations in Greece found the agency was complicit in abuse by handing over migrants it apprehended to Greek police for detention in inhumane conditions.
While some progress has been made since 2011 in clarifying the agency’s human rights obligations, and developing systems for addressing fundamental rights violations, in practice there has been little progress toward ensuring that the deployment of Frontex does not lead to complicity in abuse.
Frontex has seven oversight, monitoring, and accountability entities or systems: the Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights (CFFR), a Fundamental Rights Officer (FRO), fundamental rights monitors; a Serious Incident Reporting mechanism (SIR), an Individual Complaints Mechanism; Forced Return Monitoring, and a duty to suspend or terminate operations or funding in a member state or cancel deployment in case of serious abuses linked to its activities.
Assessment by Human Rights Watch and others of these entities and systems show that they have failed to prevent complicity by Frontex in human rights abuses or to ensure accountability.
Frontex’s Consultative Forum on Fundamental Rights (CFFR) brings together European institutions and international and civil society organizations to advise Frontex on fundamental rights. Frontex should under its mandate consult the CFFR on matters such as the Fundamental Rights Strategy, the functioning of the complaints mechanism, and codes of conduct, and may do so on any other aspect of fundamental rights. But in its seventh annual report, in 2019 the CFFR notes that it was not consulted on the development of the Frontex European Integrated Border Management Strategy.
The forum itself faces barriers to carrying out its tasks, including to “access information about the respect for fundamental rights.” In its report, it said that it lacks the necessary support to fulfill its role, such as a secretariat independent of Frontex.
The Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), a network of organizations working to protect undocumented migrants’ human rights, had been a forum member, but stepped down in January. In its statement about leaving, it said that the forum’s working methods don’t allow for meaningful participation, and that it was not consulted on human rights related matters in some cases, that it was not given sufficient notice to review information, and that Frontex often ignored its comments.
Frontex’s fundamental rights officer (FRO) is responsible for handling complaints related to fundamental rights issues and reporting to Frontex and the CFFR. Questions have been raised about the officer’s independence, given that Frontex management hires the officer. Letters published in January 2021 by Statewatch, a group that monitors civil rights in the European Union, outline attempts by Frontex’s executive director, who under applicable regulations should have no role in the appointment, to maintain hierarchical supervision of the role, undermine the post holder, or otherwise limit the officer’s independence.
CFFR has said that the officer “lacks human resources required to adequately fulfil its tasks and to … comply with its fundamental rights obligations.” This “seriously hinders the Agency’s ability to deliver on its fundamental rights obligations including on key areas such as Frontex operational activities.”
Fundamental rights monitors were introduced in 2019 and should have been in place by December 2020. The 40 officers, selected and appointed by the fundamental rights officer, are meant to visit Frontex operating areas and report to the officer on possible human rights violations. By the end of April 2021, only 20 had been recruited, according to a media report. Letters published in January by Statewatch go into the some of the reasons behind the failure to hire all 40. On June 15 the EU Ombudsman criticized the delays in hiring the 40 fundamental rights monitors.
Frontex can assist member states to help return people whose protection claims have been rejected to their country of origin. To ensure that these operations comply with EU law, Frontex has established a pool of forced-return monitors. A 2020 EU-funded academic study raised concerns about the effectiveness of this system, noting that the reports from the fundamental rights officer in 2018 and 2019 note serious violations of fundamental rights during joint return operations.
Frontex oversight mechanisms fail to carry out effective investigations into allegations of abuse during its operations.
The Serious Incident Reporting (SIR) mechanism is the key entity for reporting fundamental rights violations during Frontex operations.
According to the Frontex Code of Conduct, any Frontex officer who believes fundamental rights have been violated during a Frontex operation has the obligation to report this through the SIR mechanism. Yet few incidents are actually reported, and those that are do not lead to changes in practice, as demonstrated by the inquiry conducted by the Management Board Working Group investigation into Greece.
The Frontex Consultative Forum has raised concerns since 2018 about the effectiveness of the SIR mechanism in its annual reports and said it should be reformed. In 2018, Frontex only received 3 serious incident reports of alleged violations of fundamental rights, although independent bodies, including nongovernmental groups, made a much larger number of such reports. On June 15 the EU Ombudsman noted that “the SIR is an elaborate system, involving many participants, with the role of the FRO beginning only later in the process. This may diminish the influence of the FRO.”
A March 2020 case demonstrates the mechanism’s failure. The commander of a Danish patrol boat in the Frontex-run Operation Poseidon in Greece said that after his crew rescued 33 people from a dinghy, Operation Poseidon headquarters ordered his crew to put them back on the dingy and “tow it out of Greek waters.”
Frontex told Human Rights Watch in June 2020 that the Danish crew had been given “incorrect instructions” by the Greek Coast Guard and the “misunderstanding” was later clarified, which Frontex director repeated during a debate in the European Parliament on July 6, 2020.
However, in November, the EU Observer published a redacted email chain from Frontex about the incident that confirms that the Greek Coast Guard gave direct orders in March to the Danish patrol boat to push people back into Turkish waters. Despite the seriousness of the incident, Frontex officials reportedly never filed a serious incident report.
Even when Frontex’s border guards file these reports, little action is taken as highlighted by the Working Group inquiry on Greece, opened in November 2020, which looked at 13 serious incident reports alleging a Greek Coast Guard misconduct. The Working Group report accepted the Greek government’s position without verifying allegations of abuses or contradictory information and gave little indication that the reports were taken seriously. A May report by Der Spiegel said that internal documents included evidence that Frontex’s own human rights watchdog considered the investigations by the consortium of media outlets, including Der Spiegel, on Aegean pushbacks to be based “on solid evidence.”
The Individual Complaints Mechanism was introduced in 2016. It allows anyone whose rights are violated by staff deployed during a Frontex operation to submit a complaint to Frontex. The procedure is managed by the FRO who oversees the admissibility of complaints.
The agency is allowed to conduct a substantive investigation and impose sanctions only when the allegations concern permanent staff. When it comes to Frontex border guards seconded by member states, Frontex can only refer complaints to the member state concerned, and cannot require it to respond.
Moreover, the complaints mechanism cannot be considered an effective remedy within the meaning of article 47 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). As an employee of Frontex, the rights officer lacks independence. Moreover, even if the rights officer accepts the complaint against a staff member, the Frontex executive director is responsible for investigating it.
According to the June 2021 report by the EU Ombudsman on Frontex accountability mechanisms, between 2016 and January 2021, the FRO received 69 complaints of which 22 were admissible, with no complaints concerning the actions of Frontex staff members. The Ombudsman noted there has been “inadequate transparency in relation to the mechanism’s activities although progress is now being made” and recommended improving complaints handling and follow up and the accessibility of the complaints mechanism to potential victims.
In its March 2020 final report, the Working Group established to look into Frontex operations in the Aegean said that “reporting systems currently in place are not systematically applied, do not allow [Frontex] to have a clear picture of the facts relating to (potential) serious incidents and do not allow for a systematic analysis of fundamental rights concerns.” It added that Frontex “needs to make urgent improvements in this respect.”
Organizations including Human Rights Watch and media outlets have reported persistent violations against people arriving at EU borders, including pushbacks in some cases accompanied by violence. This includes in Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, and Malta, countries where Frontex has been working. In no case has Frontex taken clear and credible action to address those abuses or, where the risk has arisen, to avoid complicity in them.
In only one case – Hungary – has Frontex exercised its duty to halt funding or operations or to cancel a planned operation based on serious and persistent violations of fundamental rights related to its activities. However, this suspension came late after years of warnings and only after an EU court ruling.
Frontex’s director told the European Parliament Scrutiny group in March 2021 that article 46 should only be used as a last resort, with warnings and messages to host member states when there are concerns. However, for such an approach to be effective, the agency needs to demonstrate its willingness to take other actions in the interim to ensure improvements, which it has not done.
In July 2016, Hungary adopted a new asylum law creating a fictitious “transit” area, eight kilometers inside Hungary’s external border, from which people could be pushed back to Serbia without any possibility to seek asylum. It also trapped asylum seekers in that area in appalling conditions.
In November 2016 the Consultative Forum recommended that Frontex withdraw from Hungary until it could guarantee that people at the border are “given access to an individualized procedure and to asylum … are not summarily returned to Serbia, and that instances of police abuse and violence are investigated.” Frontex never adopted this recommendation, even after the fundamental rights officer made two field visits to Hungary and raised similar concerns.
UNHCR, Human Rights Watch, international human rights bodies, Hungarian civil society, and the media also repeatedly raised concerns that Hungary’s border operations violated human rights, refugee, and EU law. The European Commission pursued legal enforcement action against Hungary over its regime.
It was not until January 27, 2021, that Frontex suspended its operations in Hungary. The move followed a ruling by the European Court of Justice in December 2020 that Hungary “was in breach of EU law” by restricting access to the territory to asylum seekers and migrants and by pushing them back over the Hungarian-Serbian border into Serbia.
A report published by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee on Frontex in January 2021 concluded that Frontex’s human rights compliance mechanisms are ineffective and that the agency did not properly investigate human rights violations. The committee notes in its report that its experience regarding the effectiveness of Frontex complaints mechanism is “very bleak.”
Frontex border officers stand near migrants on the island of Lesbos, Greece, on March 2020. © 2020 Konstantinos Tsakalidis/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Frontex operation in Greece is the agency’s largest, with almost 600 guest officers, who perform border surveillance and assist in identifying and registering migrants. Officers have been at the Evros land border with Turkey since 2010, and in the Aegean Sea as part of Operation Poseidon Sea since 2006.
For more than a decade, UNHCR, the IOM, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, nongovernmental groups, and media outlets have reported the unlawful return, including through violent pushbacks, of groups and individuals from Greece to Turkey by Greek law enforcement officers or unidentified masked men who appear to be working in tandem with border enforcement officials.
Since 2020 organizations including Human Rights Watch have documented multiple incidents in which Greek Coast Guard personnel, sometimes accompanied by armed masked men, abandoned migrants at sea, violently transferring people from Greek islands or from other boats to motorless rafts, and leaving them adrift near Turkish territorial waters.
Nongovernmental organizations and the media have also reported in 2020 on persistent allegations that Greek border forces carried out pushbacks in some cases with violence through the Evros land border with Turkey. Human Rights Watch has documented such situations in 2008, 2018, and in March and July 2020.
On February 27, 2020, Turkish authorities announced they would no longer stop asylum seekers and migrants from leaving Turkish territory to reach the European Union, leading thousands of asylum seekers and migrants to congregate on the Turkish-Greek border. On March 1 the Greek government suspended access to asylum for 30 days for people irregularly entering the country. It prosecuted people for irregular entry, arbitrarily and summarily detained hundreds of new arrivals, and violently pushed back people attempting to enter Greece.
On March 2, apparently refusing to consider evidence of multiple violations of EU and human rights law by Greece, Frontex announced it was opening “a rapid border intervention” to assist Greece. On March 13, with ongoing human rights violations at Greece’s external borders, Frontex announced the deployment of an additional 100 border guards. These actions by Frontex indicate a disregard for its duty to avoid complicity in human rights abuse and an apparent breach of its own regulations.
In June 2020 Frontex responded to a Human Rights Watch inquiry about the allegations of human rights violations at Greece’s external borders, saying it had received no reports of breaches of fundamental rights in its operations by Frontex officers or by Greek border guards in Greece, and did not have the authority to investigate such allegations.
Despite all of the evidence of wrongdoing by the Greek authorities, the Management Board Working Group concluded in March 2021 that suspending or terminating the Frontex operation under article 46 would not be justified.
Human Rights Watch has documented ongoing, summary collective expulsions of migrants and asylum seekers and often abusive pushbacks at borders by Croatia since 2016. Border officials used force and violence, pummeling people with fists and kicking them. They sometimes directed violence at women and children. Border officials abandoned migrants in remote border areas, and in some cases forced them to cross freezing streams at the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is outside the EU external frontier.
The UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, the Fundamental Rights Agency, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have all raised concerns about the situation at the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Croatian authorities have denied allegations of violent pushbacks and failed to take credible steps to halt the practice, including failing to create the independent border monitoring mechanism that the European Commission requested.
In May 2019 Frontex’s director confirmed in a letter to Human Rights Watch that Frontex had an aerial surveillance system since July 2018 on the Croatia-Bosnia and Herzegovina border, but said that Frontex had not detected any events indicating human rights violations, including pushback operations in the area.
The Consultative Forum expressed concerns in 2020 about Frontex’s continued operations in Croatia “given the consistent reports of police violence and pushbacks by Croatian authorities as documented by media and various organisations, including those represented in the Consultative Forum.”
Despite the persistent reports of violations of fundamental rights, and a duty under article 46 to suspend or terminate operations when those violations are of a serious nature or are likely to persist, Frontex continues to operate in Croatia.
Frontex and its Management Board should:
- Ensure that Frontex operations are consistent with its human rights obligations under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and applicable international human rights law in the regions where it operates, including the European Convention on Human Rights, and that Frontex complies with its duty to avoid complicity in abuse;
- Ensure that the Fundamental Rights Officer and Fundamental Rights Monitors have adequate resources and that they have guaranteed independence to investigate allegations of the agency’s direct involvement or complicity in abuses, and act upon their findings and recommendations;
- Suspend under article 46 the funding and deployment of EU border guards to countries that violate European and international standards on human rights, and publicly report on Frontex assessment of information available on violations by host member states and on actions considered and taken under article 46;
- Conduct thorough assessments of the risk of complicity in human rights violations by Frontex in all of its operations, including aerial surveillance, taking into account reports from the Consultative Forum and its members before engaging in joint operations or deploying migration management support teams (former RABIT).
The European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of the EU should:
- Establish a legally binding framework to implement article 46 of the Frontex regulation for suspension, termination, and cancellation of operations and funding;
- Empower the European Ombudsman or the European Parliament to refer Frontex to the European Commission for investigation in the event that the Frontex executive director fails to activate article 46 despite persistent and serious rights violations by a host state;
- Set up a credible and independent entity to assess whether the Fundamental Rights Officer and Fundamental Rights Monitors are able to carry out their role credibly and independently and that Frontex effectively acts upon their findings and recommendations, and if needed to directly investigate allegations of the agency’s direct involvement or complicity into abuses;
- Under article 112 of the 2019 Frontex regulation, create a system for joint parliamentary scrutiny, by the European Parliament and national parliaments, similar to that in place for Europol, to ensure the political control of the activities of Frontex in the fulfillment of its mission, including with respect to the impact of Frontex’s activities on fundamental rights;
- Put in place an independent monitoring system, as proposed in the new Pact on Migration and Asylum and required by the Returns Directive, to investigate alleged violations, including by police and border guards of EU member states, and to prevent future transgressions, in accordance with May 2021 guidance by the Council of Europe Committee on the Prevention of Torture.
- Ensure that Frontex funding and material support, including in border and aerial surveillance capacities, do not encourage or contribute to human rights violations in Europe or in third countries;
- Hold member states accountable, including by opening infringement proceedings, for human rights violations committed at the EU’s external borders;
EU member states participating in Frontex activities should:
- Condition deployment of their officials in Frontex operations on ongoing independent assessment that the operation by the host state’s border guards adhere to binding human rights standards, and commit to suspend their participation if credible evidence of violations by Frontex or the host state come to light;
- Ensure that their officials deployed on Frontex missions understand their obligations under EU and international law, and are trained and instructed in their duty to report any incident of abuse they witness both to Frontex and to their national headquarters.
EINDE BERICHT HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
VK WIL BOOTMIGRANTEN TERUGSTUREN NAAR FRANSE WATEREN
De Britse minister van Binnenlandse Zaken, Priti Patel, heeft de kustwacht opdracht gegeven om boten met vluchtelingen die Het Kanaal oversteken terug te brengen naar Franse wateren, als dat op een veilige manier kan.
Het personeel wordt op dit moment getraind in ‘omdraai-acties’ op zee. Dat zal tot het einde van deze maand duren. Daarna zal de nieuwe afschrikmethode zo snel mogelijk in gebruik worden genomen.
Volgens The Guardian wisten deze week meer dan 2700 migranten vanuit Frankrijk Het Kanaal over te steken. Voor dit jaar staat de totale stand op 13.500, een recordaantal.
Een overleg met Frankrijk woensdag, om de migranten tegen te houden, leverde niets op. Het Britse plan werd door Patels Franse collega Gérald Darmanin afgewezen.
Boten dwingen om om te keren, kan tot gevaarlijke situaties leiden. Volgens Darmanin is de veiligheid van mensen op zee belangrijker dan “nationaliteit, status en migratiebeleid”. Hij zei ook dat het doorzetten van het plan een negatieve impact kan hebben op de samenwerking tussen beide landen.
De Fransen hadden eerder al ingestemd met de verdubbeling van het aantal grensbewakers aan de Franse kant van Het Kanaal. Patel wilde 64 miljoen euro aan de kosten bijdragen.
De Britse regering zegt dat het elke mogelijkheid moet aangrijpen om mensensmokkel tegen te gaan. Daarom worden meerdere mogelijkheden uitgeprobeerd om kleine boten die de gevaarlijke reis maken te stoppen, schrijft de BBC.
Vakbond ziet het niet gebeuren
Een woordvoerder van de vakbond van immigratie, kustwacht- en douanepersoneel zei tegen de BBC dat het hem zeer zou verbazen als de methode ooit gebruikt gaat worden. “Er zijn heel wat beperkingen bij wat je met een schip kan doen dat sowieso kwetsbaar is.”
“Belangrijker is nog dat je instemming van Frankrijk nodig hebt. Want als je het vaartuig over de grens terugbrengt naar Frankrijk, moet het door de Fransen onderschept en gered worden en het ziet er naar uit dat Frankrijk hier domweg niet aan meewerkt.”
EINDE NOS BERICHT
”Een overleg met Frankrijk woensdag, om de migranten tegen te houden, leverde niets op. Het Britse plan werd door Patels Franse collega Gérald Darmanin afgewezen.
Boten dwingen om om te keren, kan tot gevaarlijke situaties leiden. Volgens Darmanin is de veiligheid van mensen op zee belangrijker dan “nationaliteit, status en migratiebeleid”. Hij zei ook dat het doorzetten van het plan een negatieve impact kan hebben op de samenwerking tussen beide landen.”
VK WIL BOOTMIGRANTEN TERUGSTUREN NAAR FRANSE WATEREN
ZIE VOOR GEHELE BERICHT, NOOT 65