Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) latest regional update confirms that systematic pushbacks continue across the Balkans with new tactics of violence used against people on the move. The European Court of Justice (CJEU) again finds that the Hungarian asylum process violates EU law. The European Commission has announced an agreement with North Macedonia to strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex’s presence on the borders despite documented incidents of the agency’s complicity in violations against people on the move.

The Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) has published its monthly regional report for August sharing 12 testimonies of pushbacks impacting 354 people on the move and covering the practices member states and other actors in the Balkans and Greece. Most of the reported pushbacks by Croatian police in Bosnia and Herzegovina included confiscating expensive mobile phones, damaging or breaking cheap mobile phones, registering minors as adults, and using force including shooting. ECRE memberCentre for Peace Studies (CPS) together with Human Rights Center Zagreb (HRHZ) filed a submission to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe concerning the case of a family of 14 Afghan citizens that was denied the right to seek asylum and to communicate with lawyers, was detained during international protection procedure and was subject to collective expulsion from Croatia to Serbia. Despite a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in November 2021 finding that Croatia violated the rights of the family, Croatian authorities has not taken any concrete steps to execute the judgement or to investigate the incident. Consequently, CPS and HRHZ have offered a number of recommendations to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for “adequate measures to execute the judgment and prevent further violations of the human rights of refugees and other migrants in the Republic of Croatia”. The organisations urged the Council of Europe to transfer the case to enhanced supervision and pressure Croatia to stop the violent pushbacks as well as ill-treatment of asylum seekers.

In Serbia, BVMN volunteers have witnessed a massive spike of police violence against people on the move in the city of Belgrade which became a “transit hub” for irregular access to the EU. Further, BVMN reports of pushbacks and structural violence as well as “non-institutionalised violence” such as far-right hate speech towards the public in online and offline spheres. Collective expulsions of people on the move from Belgrade to the southern city of Presevo is another “practice that has become routine since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic” for the Serbian police. These evictions “have occurred not just in Belgrade but also in the border area of northern Serbia”. On 21 September, No Name Kitchen reported another eviction by the Serbian police and the Commissariat for Refugees and Migration forcing more than 120 people from a squat located in Sombo onto three buses without informing on their future location. Moreover, inhumane treatment is ongoing, especially in the Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade which “ has become an obscure place of arbitrary detention and inhumane treatment for some groups of people-on-the-move flying into the capital”. In addition to these abuses, “organizations and individuals active in Serbia also face incidents of criminalisation of solidarity (COS)”.

The European Court of Justice (CJEU) has again ruled on 22 September that Hungary’s asylum process is partly in violation of EU law following the examination of a case concerning a Syrian asylum applicant G.M. who already received refugee status back in 2012. His refugee status was withdrawn and he was denied subsidiary protection due to the non-reasoned opinion by Hungarian authorities that his stay constitutes a danger to national security. G.M. appealed the decision without having a possibility to express his views on the non-reasoned opinion due to the lack of access to the restricted information on the basis of which the decision was made. The authorities agreed that G.M. or his defence can be authorized to access the information, however, it could potentially be accessed only under the condition that the information will not be used for the purposes of the administrative procedure or any judicial proceedings. According to the CJEU statement: “Withdrawal of international protection further to a danger to national security: EU law precludes Hungarian legislation which provides that the person concerned or his or her legal representative can access the case file only after obtaining authorisation to that end, and without being provided with the grounds of the decision”. This ruling is not the first of its kind. The European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) have overturned other parts of the Hungarian asylum laws in previous judgements. The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe had also warned Hungary on 31 August 2022 about arbitrary removals of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to Serbia and called the authorities to ensure access to a fair and effective asylum procedure.

Meanwhile, the European Commission announced on 26 September that an agreement has been reached with North Macedonia on the strengthening of the operational activities of Frontex. The agreement was announced despite documentation by NGOs of the agency’s involvement in pushbacks from North Macedonia to Greece. According to the Commission, the cooperation aims to “help North Macedonian authorities to manage irregular migration, fight smuggling and enhance security at the EU’s external borders” while having “strong provisions for the protection of fundamental rights and compliance monitoring.”

In the latest attempts to prevent migrants from entering to Western Europe, the Czech government announced on 26 September the temporary introduction of border checks with Slovakia. In line with the measure, a total of 560 police and customs officers are deployed to carry out the controls and people are banned from crossing the border at any other place on the 251-kilometer border. “The Czech interior ministry said “the situation had reached a critical point after “authorities detained almost 12,000 irregular migrants on Czech territory this year, most of them from Syria.” Following the decision of the Czech Republic, Austria communicated on 28 September that it enforce border controls at 11 border crossings for 10 days. Austria also reached an agreement with Switzerland to work on “on a joint approach that would help the two countries control as well as prevent illegal migration.” On 29 September, Slovakia said that it will strengthen border-protection cooperation to help Serbia and Hungary. The Slovak interior minister stressed that the problem of illegal migration must be resolved at a pan-European level saying: “We are fulfilling one hundred percent of our tasks related to the Schengen borders. If all countries would do this, there would be no secondary migration.” ECRE member Hungarian Helsinki Committee reacted on the reintroduction of checks by the respective countries: “Enhanced police checks in HU are still in need of adequate safeguards to comply with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) standards

For further information:

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.