« One of us, a 13-year old boy couldn’t stop crying because of the gas so they moved him from the front to the back of the line, so he was sitting next to me. He kept crying and they were laughing at him and hitting him with police batons saying: Shut up! Shut up! »

This website documents illegal push-backs and police violence inflicted by EU member state authorities, mainly on the borders of Serbia/Croatia, Serbia/Hungary and Bosnia and Herzegovina/Croatia. The quotes and pictures below are just a few examples from a growing database of testimonies and reports collected by independent volunteers starting in 2016. Through systematic documentation, it aims to render visible the equally systematic and planned character of this violence. Day by day, basic human rights are being violated on the margins of the EU. In solidarity with the people suffering these abuses, we aim to bring their often forgotten stories to public attention and demand that these practices stop immediately.

Injuries caused by police violence in Hungary and Croatia.

« They were asking: Where is the rest of your group? and he didn’t know. They grabbed him and smashed his head against the ground breaking his teeth. Blood was coming out of his ears and from his nose. His mouth was cut where the teeth had been broken. When they dropped us in Serbia he was done, he couldn’t move. »

« They begged them not to be deported, that they had a baby, that they wanted to ask for asylum in Croatia. She also explained that her mother has a heart problem. But the police didn’t listen, and they were driven back to Serbia, and dropped at the border around midnight. It was the second time they were pushed back. »

« Then everyone had the dogs released on them again. When we were trying to back off to escape the dogs, police officers were on the other side of us, kicking us back towards the dogs. This was repeated several times. In the meantime, some policemen were drinking tea in the car observing and laughing at us. »

 

 

Header Picture: ©Ilir Tsouko

About

 

The reports that make up this database have been collected by volunteers in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina starting in 2016. These are mainly volunteers working with Rigardu, No Name Kitchen, Fresh Response, BelgrAid, Balkan Info Van, Infopark, BASIS, Aid Brigade Sarajevo as well as independent persons. In our work at different locations in Serbia and in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we started to notice the effects of push-backs and, increasingly, physical violence on the people we were working with. Since we started documenting cases of violence on the border, the frequency of such incidents has been ever rising and the level of violence has reached shocking levels. In solidarity with the people suffering these abuses we decided to document and publish their stories, which are all too often forgotten.

By connecting among ourselves and sharing our experiences, we soon noticed that these were not isolated episodes limited to specific places, but rather part of a large-scale, systematic deterrence strategy effected by the authorities of EU member states. Although illegal push-backs are taking place throughout South-Eastern Europe, this database concentrates mostly on cases in Croatia and Hungary, since these are where most of our testimonies come from. While there have been many attempts to raise attention for this issue by actors such as MSF, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, UNHCR and others [1], illegal and violent push-backs are still taking place today.

The goal of this platform is the large-scale documentation of border violence  inflicted by officials of EU member states. It aims to unite as many reports as possible under one roof, thus rendering the systematic and planned character of this violence visible. In this way, the database can serve as a powerful tool to increase public awareness of this issue – it can serve as a basis of facts for journalists or when contacting ombudspersons or politicians.

Finally, then, its purpose is to raise pressure on the institutions and actors that are directly and indirectly responsible for the systematic violation of basic human rights on the borders of the European Union. These are not limited to the EU’s member states located on these borders – such as Croatia and Hungary –  and whose officials continue to beat and abuse people on the run. Given that all European countries have agreed to the Geneva Convention as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union [2], it is their shared responsibility to impede the systematic violation of those treaties. Instead, the various measures taken to close the Balkan corridor are widely celebrated as successful and decreasing arrival numbers in central European countries are being portrayed by politicians as the results of effective European policy-making. However, what is not mentioned is how this new regime drives more and more people fleeing from war and persecution in their home countries into the arms of smugglers and violent border guards.

The reports on this page were derived from testimonies given by victims of push-backs and police violence. Whenever we notice that someone has suffered violence, either by obvious injuries or because someone approaches us directly, we will conduct an interview to document their experiences. For this, we use a set of guidelines that are based on our own experiences, expert advice, as well as guidelines previously published by other organizations [3].

Where available, the testimonials are accompanied by fotos taken by the person conducting the interview, in order to document injuries sustained from police violence. We are aware of the fact that care is needed when publishing sensitive information of displaced persons, given that their situation makes them particularly vulnerable. Since the safety and integrity of the people we work with is our highest priority, all of our reports are completely anonymized. No information on this website is shared without explicit consent.

[1] Médecins sans frontières (03.10.2017): GAMES OF VIOLENCE, unaccompanied children and young people repeatedly abused by EU member state border authorities; http://www.msf.org/sites/msf.org/files/serbia-games-of-violence-3.10.17.pdf

UNHCR (2016): UNHCR Concerned Hungary Pushing Asylum Seekers Back to Serbia. http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2016/7/5788c85a4/unhcr-concernedhungary-pushing-asylum-seekers-serbia.html

Are You Syrious/Welcome Initative (05.03.2017): REPORT ON THE NEW WAVE OF VIOLENCE AGAINST REFUGEES ON CROATIAN BORDERS http://welcome.cms.hr/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/REPORT-ON-THE-NEW-WAVE-OF-VIOLENCE-AGAINST-REFUGEES-ON-CROATIAN-BORDERS.pdf

Oxfam (06.04.2017): A Dangerous ‘Game’ https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/file_attachments/bp-dangerous-game-pushback-migrants-refugees-060417-en_0.pdf

Human Rights Watch (2017): Croatia: Asylum Seekers Forced Back to Serbia. https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/01/20/croatia-asylum-seekers-forced-back-serbia

[2] For more information, see LEGAL FRAMEWORK

[3] These include guidelines by UNHCR, Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Fresh Response

Current Situation

With the increasing militarization of national borders along the so called “Balkan Route”, Serbia and Bosnia have become the main transit countries for people on the move towards Western and Northern Europe. However, what was for a brief timespan an open “Balkan Corridor” has now turned into a “Balkan Prison”, dangerous and without exit for those trapped inside [1].

After Hungary started building massive border fences in the fall of 2015 and after Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia announced the closure of their frontiers in March 2016, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, defined the Balkan route as “closed”. He declared that “irregular flows of migrants along western Balkans route have come to an end” [2].
Today, the systematic fortification of borders is still continuing across South-Eastern Europe, increasingly exacerbating the situation for people on the move. The southern borders of Hungary and Slovenia are completely fenced off now. The same applies to the Turkish-Bulgarian border, part of the Bulgarian-Greek border, the Greek-Macedonian and parts of the Serbian-Bulgarian border (see map). Where borders are not yet physically sealed, they are heavily controlled by police who often use violence as a deterrent.


Yet, this policy of closed borders does not reduce migration flows, nor does it close the route. Instead, people on the move are forced to seek more and more dangerous paths towards Central Europe. Since there remain very few, if any, legal possibilities to cross the border, many people see themselves forced to go “to the game”. This is the expression commonly used for trying to cross the border irregularly, either alone or with the help of a smuggler, often including long walks in the dark, hiding in lorries or clinging to freight trains. In these “games”, chances for success are dim, and in some cases they end deadly: In the night of November 20/21 2017 a six-year-old girl was hit by a train and died when she was travelling with her family and in the night of September 9/10 2017, a young Algerian man lost his life when accidentally touching an overhead cable, trying to hide in a train- just to mention two cases in the area where we are recording incidents. In 2015 and 2016, 27 migrant deaths were recorded along the Western Balkans route, where in comparison none were recorded in 2014 [3]. The Missing Migrants Project counted 18 people that died 2018 in the Western Balkans until November, most of them drowned in rivers [4].

In 2018, this is the reality for anyone attempting to enter to EU without the right papers. After having been driven out of their homes by war, persecution and lack of perspective, people are coming to Europe in search of peace and security. Instead, they find themselves caught in limbo in front of the European borders for months on end, often in an endless cycle of “games” where they are repeatedly abused and humiliated by violent border guards.

⇒The Situation in Serbia

⇒Development in Bosnia and Herzegovina

⇒The Croatian Case

⇒The Hungarian Case

 

[1] Médecins sans frontières (03.10.2017): GAMES OF VIOLENCE, unaccompanied children and young people repeatedly abused by EU member state border authorities; http://www.msf.org/sites/msf.org/files/serbia-games-of-violence-3.10.17.pdf

[2] The Guardian (09.03.2016): Balkan countries shut borders as attention turns to new refugee routes; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/09/balkans-refugee-route-closed-say-european-leaders

[3] UNHCR (30.11.2017): Serbia Inter Agency Operational Update November 2017;
https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/details/61412

[4] IOM (23.11.2018): Missing Migrants Project;
http://missingmigrants.iom.int/region/europe