Balkan countries accused of violating refugees’ human rights

Amnesty International accuses Balkan countries of abusing immigrants and asylum seekers

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Amnesty International released a report on Monday on the abuse of immigrants trying to enter EU countries through Balkan territories.

The human rights organisation Amnesty International claims that thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who want to enter EU countries through the Balkan route have to face abuse and extortion by government officials and criminal gangs.

Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia Gauri van Gulik said that “refugees fleeing war and persecution make this journey across the Balkans in the hope of finding safety in Europe only to find themselves victims of abuse and exploitation and at the mercy of failing asylum systems.”

“Serbia and Macedonia have become a sink for the overflow of refugees and migrants that nobody in the EU seems willing to receive,” van Gulik added.

Mentioning the problematic migration system of the EU, Gulik said that “Serbia and Macedonia have to do much more to respect migrants and refugees’ rights. But it is impossible to separate the human rights violations there, from the broader pressures of the flow of migrants and refugees into and through the EU, and a failed EU migration system.”

According to Amnesty’s report, migrants who try to reach Athens by crossing Macedonia and Serbia have suffered ill-treatment, pushing, slapping, kicking and beatings, from border police, and were forced to pay bribes.

In the report, a witness says one of the border police officials in Serbia at the Hungarian border told a group of refugees to pay 200 euros per person otherwise they would be forced to return to where they came from.

Another refugee from Nigeria said “nine men attacked us with knives. We went to the police to ask for help…but they arrested us.”

A refugee from Afghanistan, meanwhile, said, “I saw men badly beaten. [The Macedonian border police]  beat my 13-year-old son. They beat me too.”

Along with beatings and push-backs, detention is another problem refugees have to face when using the Balkan route for migration. Most of the refugees in the report, including women and children, have been held in Gazi Baba, the Macedonian reception centre for foreigners, for long periods of time while lacking legal and economic support.

A Syrian asylum seeker told Amnesty International that “in Gazi Baba there were about 400-450 people when we entered…People were sleeping even on the stairs, the overcrowding was terrible. There were mattresses on the floors and in the corridor.”

One of the former detainees recalled that when they entered the camp, the first thing police said is “if you die here, nobody will come and ask about you. We will throw your dead body out.”

Macedonia and Serbia have not been popular countries for asylum seekers. While Macedonia granted only 10 people asylum, Serbia granted only one person asylum in 2014.

Refugees and migrants generally skip Macedonia and Serbia and head to Hungary, which gave 240 people asylum in 2014.

Refugees who are detained in Hungary are sent to reception centres or to detention centres if they are considered to pose a risk to the country. Some of them are sent back to Serbia or Macedonia.

The Amnesty International report consists of data collected from four research studies conducted in Serbia, Hungary, Greece and Macedonia from July 2014 to March 2015.

Hungarian police have detained more than 67,000 illegal immigrants this year, mostly coming from Serbia, including more than 1,000 people a day over the past week, the Associated Press reported.

Hungarian and Austrian police forces announced in the last week of June that they would deploy mobile patrols along the border between Serbia and Macedonia.

On the other hand, Macedonia has become a major transit country for thousands of refugees and migrants who cross over from Greece and then continue into Serbia.

Macedonia, in an effort to decrease border crossings and to get transit passages under control, changed the legislation for asylum and temporarily enacted a new law which states that migrants passing through the country can stay a maximum 72 hours, after which they must leave or apply for asylum.

TRTWorld and agencies