Croatia, Greece lead countries in deadly migrant pushbacks - Guardian

Croatia and Greece are among European Union nations most involved in brutal tactics to stop asylum seekers from reaching the continent, the Guardian newspaper said on Wednesday, citing reports by UN agencies and data from NGOs.

European countries, backed by EU border agency Frontex, have systematically pushed back refugees in their thousands, including children fleeing from wars, in one of the biggest mass expulsions in decades, the Guardian reported. The illegal tactics, also employed by Italy, Spain and Malta, included assault and brutality during detention or transportation, it said.

Croatia stepped up violence and pushbacks of migrants to Bosnia last year. Nearly 18,000 were repelled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Guardian said, citing the Danish Refugee Council (DRC). Referring to refugee testimonies, the newspaper said migrants had been whipped, robbed, sexually abused, and stripped naked by the Croatian police. Some were spray painted with red crosses on their heads as a “cure against coronavirus”.

“Despite the European Commission’s engagement with Croatian authorities in recent months, we have seen virtually no progress, neither on investigations of the actual reports, nor on the development of independent border monitoring mechanisms,” said Nicola Bay, the country director of DRC for Bosnia. “Every single pushback represents a violation of international and EU law - whether it involves violence or not.”

Greece has pushed back about 6,230 asylum seekers from its shores since the start of last year, according to the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), a group of 13 NGOs recording such incidents in the western Balkans, the Guardian said.

In 89 percent of pushbacks, “BVMN has observed the disproportionate and excessive use of force. This alarming number shows that the use of force in an abusive, and therefore illicit way has become a normality.

“Extremely cruel examples of police violence documented in 2020 included prolonged excessive beatings (often on naked bodies), water immersion, the physical abuse of women and children, the use of metal rods to inflict injury,” it said.

Greece is facing a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights accusing it of abandoning dozens of migrants in life rafts after several were beaten. Greek patrol boats towed the people back to Turkish territorial waters, where they were abandoned without food, water, life jackets, or any way to call for help, the Guardian said citing the lawsuit filed in April.

“Whether it be using the Covid-19 pandemic and the national lockdown to serve as a cover for pushbacks, fashioning open-air prisons, or preventing boats from entering Greek waters by firing warning shots toward boats, the evidence indicates the persistent refusal to uphold democratic values, human rights and international and European law,” BVMN said.

Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarakis has repeatedly denied that Greece is pushing back migrants, labelling the reports as “fake news”.