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News 21 Sep 15

Macedonia Police Slammed for Abusing Refugees

The Macedonian police have physically abused refugees and migrants who have been transiting the country’s territory, campaign group Human Rights Watch said in a new report.

Sinisa Jakov Marucic
 Refugees at the Macedonian border | Photo by: Meri Jordanova

In a report released on Monday, Human Rights Watch accused the Macedonian police of beating and insulting refugees and migrants from countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.

“It’s plain to see that Macedonia has a problem with police violence against asylum seekers and migrants,” said Emina Cerimovic of Human Rights Watch.

The campaign group's 59-page report entitled “‘As Though We Are Not Human Beings’: Police Brutality against Migrants and Asylum Seekers in Macedonia”, documents cases of physical and verbal abuse at the hands of Macedonian officers at the country’s southern border with Greece, the primary entry point for refugees heading north towards Western Europe.

It also documents cases of police ill-treatment  in the Gazi Baba detention centre in Skopje between June 2014 and July 2015 and the failure of the authorities to investigate these cases. It alleges that refugees were held “in inhuman and degrading conditions in Gazi Baba”.

People who were interviewed by Human Rights Watch describe being beaten by police officers with batons as well as punched, kicked, and verbally abused.

“In some cases, migrants and asylum seekers were forced to run a gantlet between rows of police officers, who struck them with police batons on their backs, shoulders, and heads,” the report says.

Ayesha, a 16-year-old girl from Afghanistan, told Human Rights Watch that Macedonian police hit her and that she twice saw police beat her father and 17-year-old brother.

After protesting in early January because they were sent back to the border where they came from, “a police officer approached my father and hit him with a police baton on his back and his arm. Another police officer hit my brother with a police baton on his shoulders and third police officer hit me with a police baton on my arms,” Ayesha said in the report.

Cerimovic said that although Macedonia has stopped routinely detaining migrants and asylum seekers in degrading conditions, “its asylum and migration practices still fall short of its obligations under national, EU, and international law.”  

“The European Union should press Skopje to tackle its problem of police abuse against migrants and asylum seekers through training and accountability,” she said.

Greece, Macedonia and Serbia are key transit countries along the Western Balkans migration route to the European Union. Since August, thousands of refugees and migrants have been transiting these countries.

Macedonia said last week there were days when up to 11,000 migrants entered the country via its southern border with Greece.

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