May 18. 2024. 2:25

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Over 200,000 illegal pushbacks at EU external borders, says report

Over 200,000 illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers took place at the EU’s external borders in 2022, the Belgian NGO 11.11.11. stated in its latest report.

The study, published on Wednesday (22 March), synthesises monitoring data and public reporting gathered by NGOs, media research and governments. It recorded 225,533 pushbacks at the EU’s external borders over the year, more than 600 each day.

EU law enshrines the right to seek asylum and the right to international protection, as well as the prohibition of collective expulsion and the principle of non-refoulement – the forcible return of refugees to territories in which their life or freedom would be threatened.

According to the EU’s Asylum Procedures Directive, those seeking international protection must have their applications examined individually, objectively and impartially, in a language they can understand, with access to legal counsel.

“The report shows the systemic nature of pushbacks as part of the current EU’s border management, despite announcements of EU officials to end the practice,” 11.11.11’s migration expert Flor Didden told EURACTIV. “EU institutions and member states should be much more active in tackling this problem.”

“This research only contains the number of reported pushbacks,” Didden added. “Due to the mostly covert nature of pushbacks and inaccessibility of border areas (at sea or in remote areas) to independent researchers, there is a wide data gap,” he said, adding that these numbers are likely “only the tip of the iceberg”.

Italian authorities illegally returned asylum seekers to Greece, investigation finds

A new investigation found that Italian authorities took part in illegal intra-EU pushbacks of asylum seekers, detaining foreign nationals below deck on commercial ferries after their arrival in Italy’s ports and sending them back to Greece.

The case of Hungary

“While information on pushbacks tends to be scarce […] some countries, predominantly Hungary, are loud and proud about the scale of illegal and violent pushbacks they’re conducting,” Didden said.

Of the recorded numbers, three-quarters – 158,296 – of the reported pushbacks were at Hungary’s borders, according to figures made publicly available by the government in Budapest.

“Although states have a right to decide whether to grant non-EU nationals access to their territory, they must do this in accordance with the law and uphold individuals’ fundamental rights,” an October briefing report by the European Parliament stated, adding that practices of pushbacks both “erode EU values as enshrined in the EU Treaties” and are potentially in violation of international and European human rights law.

However, NGOs and researchers have reported continuing violent pushbacks at Hungary’s borders, despite the ruling.

“The consistency and regularity of violence we treat at the Hungary-Serbia border is indiscriminate,” Andjela Marcetic, a medical doctor in Serbia, told Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in August. “Every week, we see several patients, including some children, with severe bruising, deep wounds and cuts, dislocations and fractures, often on their legs, arms and sometimes on the head.”

“The scale and normalisation of pushbacks at Europe’s borders requires urgent and concerted action by governments and parliamentarians,” Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights, said last April. The CoE’s recommendations urged member states to refocus on the implementation of their human rights obligations, and enhancement of transparency and accountability.

Hans Leijtens, the new director of Frontex, the EU’s border agency, underlined in a press conference with Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson in January that pushbacks will have no place under his tenure, which began on 1 March.

“Pushbacks by Frontex officers are not legal. They are forbidden,” Leijtens said.

Ex-Frontex director Fabrice Leggeri resigned in April 2022 after the agency was subject to a probe by the EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF.

A previous investigation, made public in mid-October of this year, revealed that the EU agency’s guards covered up the illegal pushbacks of migrants at the border on a massive scale between 2020 and 2021.

The OLAF review found that at least six pushbacks involved Greek coastguard ships that had been co-financed by Frontex.

Migration ministers promise to agree asylum bill stance by June

EU migration ministers have vowed to agree a common position on two key files in the proposed Immigration and Asylum Pact in a bid to finally overhaul the bloc’s rules before next May’s European elections.