Western Balkans: Migrants and refugees are "routinely abused by law enforcement officials in the Western Balkans"

Western Balkans  
Migrants and refugees are "routinely abused by law enforcement officials in the Western Balkans"
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Migrants and refugees in the Western Balkans who are trying to access the territory of the EU "are being routinely abused by law enforcement officials," who are "subjecting people to violence and intimidation and denying access to asylum procedures to those seeking international protection," says a new report by Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, the Macedonian Young Lawyers Association and Oxfam.

See: A dangerous 'game': The pushback of migrants, including refugees, at Europe's borders (pdf):

"People who are trying to access the EU in search of safety and dignity are being routinely abused by law enforcement officials in countries in the Western Balkans. State agents responsible for upholding fundamental rights are instead subjecting people to violence and intimidation and denying access to asylum procedures to those seeking international protection. Governments in the region must immediately end these violations and initiate processes to ensure safety and dignity for people on the move in their territories."

The report is based on testimonies collected from 140 people:

"The Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Macedonia Young Lawyers Association (MYLA) collected testimonies from 140 migrants, including refugees, between 30 January and 17 February 2017. Researchers spoke to 100 people in Serbia and 40 in Macedonia who had attempted to move between countries in the weeks and months previously. In Serbia, interviews were conducted in Belgrade, on the Serbian-Hungarian border in the north around the city of Subotica and on the Serbian-Bulgarian border in the east, around the town of Dimitrovgrad. The interviews in Macedonia were conducted in the village of Tabanovce in the north of the country, near the border with Serbia.

Of the 140 people interviewed, 75 had been expelled from Hungary to Serbia, 19 from Croatia to Serbia, 44 from Serbia to either Bulgaria or Macedonia, one from Macedonia to Greece and seven from Bulgaria to Turkey. Some were expelled more than once and from more than one location. The vast majority came from Afghanistan, the others from Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Lebanon."

It says (emphasis added):

"Rather than being places of safety, countries on the Western Balkan route have failed to offer protection or due process to many new arrivals and instead have pushed them back to their previous country of transit or even another country, without giving them a chance to claim asylum. Pushbacks are happening in different ways. Hungary and Croatia – both EU member states – have used brutal tactics, such as attack dogs and forcing people to strip naked in freezing temperatures. The Serbian authorities have generated a climate of fear and uncertainty amongst migrants by expelling groups of people who have been legally registered and were expecting to receive their right to an individual hearing. This practice meant that in mid-winter, in freezing temperatures of -20ºC, people were afraid to stay in government centres for fear of being pushed back to Macedonia or Bulgaria. Interviewees also accused Bulgarian authorities of treating people in such a brutal manner that they are afraid to return."

The authors call on the governments of Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, Hungary and Bulgaria to:

  • Immediately review all procedures at their borders to ensure that they are in compliance with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), i.e. the prohibition on inhumane and degrading treatment, and Article 4 of Protocol No. 4 to the ECHR, i.e. the principle of non-refoulement and the prohibition of collective expulsions. Also, ensure that the quality and outcome of these procedures can be scrutinized before a national authority, including by providing access to an effective remedy, in compliance with Article 13 of the ECHR.
  • Conduct an independent and rigorous assessment of each individual’s claim for international protection in order to ensure that they have access to an individual asylum determination procedure, with full rights to representation and interpreter services and with the right to appeal the decision, with any deportation proceedings suspended pending the outcome of the appeal.
  • Urgently investigate and take action against all perpetrators of crimes against migrants, including all forms of inhuman or degrading treatment by law enforcement officers, physical violence, and robbery.
  • Introduce preventive measures against future violations, including a rigorous hiring process for law enforcement officers before deployment, incorporation of improved technical equipment such as body-worn cameras, and mandatory training on European and international human rights and refugee law. A high level of applicants to the Hungarian police force did not pass a psychological test in 2016. Therefore all officers hired in 2015 – at the peak of the crisis in Hungary – should also be required to undertake a psychological test and any who do not pass must be removed from the force immediately.
  • Allow Ombudsman offices (in charge of existing National Preventive Mechanisms) and relevant civil society to have full and unimpeded access to border areas in all the countries concerned as a matter of urgency as outlined in Article 3 and 4 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The report: A dangerous 'game': The pushback of migrants, including refugees, at Europe's borders (pdf)

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