Hungary reportedly pushed back 157,879 people in 2022. Amnesty denounced Austria’s ill-treatment of refugees while the country’s Chancellor met with Sweden and Denmark to cooperate in fighting “illegal migration”. More bodies found on the Polish-Belarussian border and Lithuanian approves an initiative to hold Belarus accountable for launching “hybrid attacks” at EU borders.
Systematic violence against people on the move along Hungarian borders continues. Amnesty reported 157,879 cases of pushbacks by the end of December 2022, leaving the country at the top of the list of EU states carrying out pushbacks using different forms of force. Hungarian authorities put in place a legal framework in 2016 that explicitly allows the Hungarian police to return people to Serbia without individual assessment. The authorities also introduced another framework in 2020 called the Embassy System which practically prevents asylum seekers from non-neighbouring war-torn countries to enter Hungary. While Hungary “communicates very openly and even proudly about pushbacks”, a government spokesperson dismissed reports of pushbacks and police violence as attempts “to discredit personnel on duty at the border”. The spokesperson insisted that Hungarian authorities had violated neither EU nor Hungarian law saying: “The police are performing their duties lawfully, professionally, and proportionately, and they place special emphasis on treating migrants humanely and with respect for their human dignity”. However, testimonies compiled by collectives on the ground point out systematic and brutal violence against people on the move by Hungarian forces. One man narrated his experience of a pushback saying that he endured “three hours of beating, punching and kicking in total” with a group of people on the move when first caught between Subotica and Szeged in Hungary, adding that the police “kicked us in the face and groin and said, “Welcome to Hungary”. Then, they put dirt into our faces and said again, “Welcome to Hungary”. The Hungarian police threatened him and another group of refugees with guns and poured alcoholic drinks and water over them before returning them to Serbia. Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled in early February that the Hungarian authorities are responsible for the death of a young Syrian man who drowned in the river Tisza at the Serbian-Hungarian border after police assaulted and pushed him back in 2016.
Austria is at the “tipping point” as the government uses “anti-human rights rhetoric to justify discriminatory measures” towards people on the move. Amnesty in its latest report criticized Austria for housing asylum seekers in tents, the ongoing unlawful pushbacks and the disappearance of 5,140 unaccompanied children seeking asylum within a period of six months in 2022. “The direction we take now will determine the coming decades. If we continue to marginalize people and deny them their human rights, it not only violates their rights but also undermines the cohesion of our society”, says Annemarie Schlack from Amnesty International Austria. Meanwhile, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer visited Copenhagen and Stockholm to “bolster the three countries’ coordination on transforming the EU’s migration regime”. Nehammer aims to make Austria less attractive to migrants, by cutting social support payments in a migrant’s initial years following their arrival. Denmark and Sweden have also similar policies in place. “We are like-minded countries in many issues, including migration,” said Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen. “We are allies in fighting illegal migration,” said Nehammer.
Volunteers found on 24 March the 40th victim of the crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border during a civic patrol near the Hwoźna River in Poland’s Białowieża National Park. The volunteers say that the degree of decomposition is high, which may mean the victim has been there for a long time. On 21 March, the 39th victim, a 27-year-old Afghan man, was found in the same area after a month of search. Reportedly, at least 200 people are still missing. “Activists and locals provide humanitarian aid for refugees and search for missing ones. In the same time, uniformed services often concentrate on pushbacks to Belarus, the illegality of which is indicated by humanitarian organisations and court judgments, Collective Grupa Grancia said and called for a change in the country’s inhumane migration policies. MEP Janina Ochojsk believes “there are many more victims along this border” and described the border area as a “mass grave”. She long demanded an end to the deadly policy of deportations at the Belarus-Poland border and accountability for the responsible for these deaths. Meanwhile, 26 asylum seekers reportedly went on hunger strike at the Guarded Center for Foreigners in Krosno Odrzański protesting their arbitrary detention and calling for information about their uncertain future. The strikers were initially detained for 3 months but their detention was extended twice for 3 months.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Gabrielius Landsbergis met on 3 April with Hans Leijtens, the new Executive Director of the European Border and Coastguard Agency (Frontex). During the meeting, both discussed Frontex’s possible involvement in managing irregular migration flows at the EU-Belarus border along with other issues. Landsbergis thanks Frontex for its “significant” contribution in protecting EU external borders while underlining that “the hybrid attack on European borders had yet to end”. A few days later on 6 April, the Lithuanian government approved an initiative to take legal measures to hold Belarus accountable for its actions “for facilitating illegal migration to the country and the EU”.
For further information:
- ECRE, EU Eastern Borders: More Deaths at Poland Belarus Border as Reports of Pushbacks, Detention and Crack-down on Solidarity Continue, Council of Europe Concerned over Pushbacks and Criminalisation in Latvia, February 2023
- ECRE, EU Eastern Borders: MSF Closes Operations in Latvia and Lithuania over Violent Pushbacks as Polish Border with Belarus Sees More Deaths, January 2023