The European Commission has called for an investigation into the violence and deliberate expulsion of migrants from the territory of the European Union. It happened after the publication of a report summarizing many months of international journalistic investigation. It was established, inter alia, that such operations were carried out by the Greek and Croatian services. Under international humanitarian law, people have the right to apply for asylum, and it is forbidden to send potential asylum seekers where their lives may be at risk.
A report by an international group of investigative journalists stated that the Greek and Croatian secret services sometimes concealed their identities during the push-back procedure. The report also includes video recordings of eleven cases of migrants being forced out by Croatian police in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The report shows that there have been 635 pushbacks in Greece since March 2020. In one of these situations, a group of 25 migrants was arrested off the Aegean coast and turned back towards Turkey. Former and current employees of the Greek coast guard identified the men visible in the recordings as members of an elite unit responsible for protecting the country’s maritime borders.
The investigation lasted eight months and was conducted by the Lighthouse Reports journalism group. It includes, among others, the German ARD television, the German “Der Spiegel”, the Croatian RTL television, reporters of the “Rundschau” program of the Swiss television SRD and the French daily “Liberation”.
Reuters journalists who reported on the report said they had not independently verified the allegations.
European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz said on Thursday that an inquiry was needed. “The Commission is strongly opposed to any push-back practice and has repeatedly stressed that any such practice is illegal and that national authorities have a duty to investigate any allegations to establish the facts and properly investigate any offenses,” he said.
Responding to reports from German media, Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bożinović announced that the police would investigate the matter. He assured that the Croatian border guard was operating in accordance with the law.
World media and non-governmental organizations reported on the brutal treatment of migrants by the Croatian police in previous months. The officers forced them to return to Bosnia and Herzegovina, collecting personal belongings such as telephones and documents.
Greek Minister of Migration Notis Mitarachi said he would not apologize for protecting Europe’s borders. – We strongly deny these allegations. The borders of Greece are the borders of the European Union and we act within the framework of international and European law to protect them – he explained. Mitarachi also stated that Europe remains a target of criminal gangs that exploit people to enter the EU.
Right to asylum as a human right
Anyone fleeing persecution or at risk of serious harm in their home country has the right to apply for international protection. The right to asylum is one of the fundamental rights guaranteed in Article 18 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
The right to asylum is guaranteed in accordance with the principles of the Geneva Convention of 28 July 1951 and the Protocol of 31 January 1967 Relating to the Status of Refugees and in accordance with the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (hereinafter “the Treaties”).
Reuters notes that these principles “have been often ignored in Europe in recent years in the face of the massive influx of migrants fleeing conflict or poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.”
Questions about the use of push-backs against migrants are also asked in Poland, in connection with the migration crisis at the Polish-Belarusian border.
Main photo source: Reuters / RTL Croatia