Eight-month investigation by journalists from seven countries uncovers a "system" run by "special units" who usually hide their identity by wearing unmarked uniforms and face-covering balaclavas, Germany's Der Spiegel says.
Migrants and refugees are suffering sometimes violent illegal pushback carried out by special police units at the EU's borders, especially Greece and Croatia, an investigation published by media including Germany's Der Spiegel has found.
The eight-month probe by journalists from seven countries uncovered a "system" run by "special units" who usually hide their identity by wearing unmarked uniforms and face-covering balaclavas, Spiegel wrote on Wednesday.
Reporters involved in the probe were also drawn from German public broadcaster ARD, French newspaper Liberation, Croatian and Serb media and Dutch investigations platform Lighthouse Reports.
Videos of 11 pushbacks described by Der Spiegel allegedly show men beating refugees before bringing them back across the border into Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Six Croatian officials confirmed to the magazine that the images showed members of a special police unit.
The pushback operation was dubbed "Operation Corridor" by senior Croatian officials.
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Greek refugee pushbacks
Other videos and witness testimonies point to special Greek coastguard units detailed to intercept asylum seekers' boats in the Aegean Sea and set them adrift aboard orange life rafts, some paid for with EU cash.
Neither the Greek government, which has contested previous allegations of illegal pushback nor Croatia's government responded to the journalists' questions.
"Far from being a few officers stepping over the line, these pushbacks make up an established strategy by the states, whose police forces are supported financially by the EU," Liberation wrote.
"Asylum-seekers' testimony is piling up in Greece, Romania, and Croatia, gathered by aid groups, lawyers, and journalists," the paper added.
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EU continues to close its eyes to flagrant violations
Wednesday's investigation provided "visual proof" from drones, thermal cameras, and remotely-triggered hunting cameras.
Amnesty International said it was "alarming that the European Commission continues to close its eyes to flagrant violations of EU law and even continues to finance police and border operations in some of these countries".
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