Border Violence Monitoring Network’s (BVMN) latest regional update confirms an increase in systematic pushbacks and violence across the Balkans. The European Commission increases support for the Western Balkan to tighten border controls and stop migrants from entering the zone.

BVMN released its latest Balkan Regional Report covering September based on 25 testimonies of pushbacks impacting 557 people-on-the-move (POM) across the Balkans and Greece. Beyond the various tactics of pushbacks, the network observed an increase in the level of violence perpetrated by Hungarian police towards people attempting to cross the Hungarian-Serbian border, the region’s busiest route. Serbia has recently become a major transit country for migrants seeking to arrive in Europe through the Western Balkan route. According to recent data from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), 106,000 crossings from the Western Balkans to the EU were recorded from early January to September this year. This figure is 170% higher than in the same period of 2021. Some arrive on visa-free agreements, and others come undocumented.  Open Migration explains this increase by referring to the bilateral visa liberalization agreements between Serbia and other countries including Syria, Tunisia, Turkiye, Cuba, Burundi and other countries which allow people of these nationalities to obtain a Serbian visa, arrive and then try to enter neighboring EU member states such as Croatia and Hungary. German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said that Serbia’s visa policy is “based on states not recognizing Kosovo and that the country must adapt its visa practice to the EU if it wants to become a serious candidate for membership” of the EU. European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said that Syrians and Afghans often have reasons to seek asylum in the EU but many of the other nationalities “must be returned to their country of origin”. Due to EU pressure, Serbia announced on 24 October the reintroduction of visa for Tunisia and Burundi Nationals starting from 20 November to deal with the increasing number of people entering the EU through this route. “The wall between Europe and Africa has just been raised yet higher… and more deaths are on the horizon. Less freedom of movement. Do you call that a success?” said researcher Mohammed Haddad.

Meanwhile, Tunisian migrants are forced to seek new and safer routes to Europe such as the Balkan route. 15,000 Tunisian migrants used the Turkish-Serbian alternative path risking “physical and institutional violence” to reach the EU, according to stats from Tunisian authorities. The EU needs to unite in the “fight” against “illegal” migration and maintain “consistent external border measures and return policies”, urged the Austrian Interior Minister explaining that these measures will give a signal to those wishing to enter the EU that the Balkan route is “hopeless”. In contrast, these restrictions are forcing Tunisian migrants to seek new and safer routes to Europe, and the Balkan route is one of these paths. According to stats from Tunisian authorities, 15,000 Tunisian migrants used the Turkish-Serbian alternative migratory path risking “physical and institutional violence” and pushbacks. Furthermore, Hungary has detained around 215,000 people arriving irregularly so far this year. “These migrants bring a new dimension of violence and aggression, given that they’re now armed … they’re shooting at each other and threatening the Hungarian police officers and soldiers protecting the Hungarian border,” said Péter Szijjártó, Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs. In the meantime, reports about the increasing brutality of Hungarian authorities violence during pushbacks to Serbia are mounting. BVMN documented reports of physical assaults by Hungarian police using boots, batons, belts, rubber bullets, and electric shocks, as well as degrading treatment in the form of death threats, placement in a metal container, shaving heads and deprivation of necessities such as food. NGO Asylum Protection in Serbia said: “Families with children are exposed to violence” and added that a child named “Omar was with the group that Hungarian police beat with batons. He watched them hit a woman and a 12-year-old child, shouting at them not to cry”.

The European Commission recommends a candidate status for Bosnia and Herzegovina based on reforms made in different areas including migration amid frequent reports of pushbacks on its border. No Name Kitchen reported of recurrent verbal violence during pushbacks from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina. BVMN report also observed several cases of pushbacks of families with children as well as unaccompanied minors, who were exposed to theft, as well as physical violence. Moreover, Bosnian police on 22 and 23 September invaded the warehouse used for storing food, clothing and other necessities meant to be distributed to people on the move by the NGO, No Name Kitchen. Meanwhile in Bulgaria, hospitals in the city of Burgas are full of unidentified bodies of people on the move passing through the country. Local media said that corpses were found by hunters in the forest and added that “They cannot be released because their identities cannot be established”. “The bodies of refugees are being found all across European borders: in the Mediterranean, along the Balkan route, in the Polish forests. We got so used to those news, we do not pay attention to them anymore. And that’s the real tragedy”, said lawyer Marta Górczyńska. As violence towards people on the move continues along the Balkan route, the European Commission introduced proposals to “increase support for border and migration management in the Western Balkans”. The first proposal was sent to the Council and aims to enhance Frontex cooperation with Western Balkan countries; Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to “strengthen cooperation on migration management”. The second is a “timely” assistance package worth a total of €39.2 million under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA III) covering migration management systems including surveillance systems, reception and detention facilities, bringing the total bilateral and regional support adopted to €171.7 million. EU Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi said: “We count on the commitment our of Western Balkan partners to make these actions a success”.

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