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News 11 Dec 17

Website Documents Police Violence Against Refugees in Balkans

The German NGO Rigardu has launched a website gathering reports of illegal push-backs and police violence this year against refugees using the so-called Balkan Route.

Sven Milekic
Injuries allegedly suffered from the Croatian police. Photo: Rigardu e.V.

Marking International Human Rights Day, the German human rights NGO, Rigardu, has launched a website documenting allegations of police violence against mostly Middle-Eastern refugees traveling westwards along the so-called Balkan Route.

The NGO, Volunteers of Rigardu, and two NGOs based on Serbia’s borders with Croatia and Subotica – No Name Kitchen and Fresh Response – have gathered 110 reports of alleged illegal push-backs over the border and police violence involving at least 857 refugees from January to late November this year. Some 52 of these cases included minors.

Of the total, 289 come from Afghanistan, 116 from Pakistan and 123 from the Maghreb region. Other nationalities included people from Bangladesh, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Cuba.

The report states that refugees suffered violence “such as beating, kicking, electric shocks and even dog bites, and were deprived of their belongings, including their clothes, and forced to wait for hours at sub-zero temperature”.

Besides photos, the reports contain details of the violence used, the number of police officers involved, as well as the dates and locations of the incidents.

“Three or four policemen beat the interviewed man with a fist to all body parts, also to his face, for about 10 to 20 minutes,” it said of a 27-year-old Pakistani, who testified about the violence he allegedly suffered from the Hungarian police in November.

“The police put a branch of a tree to his mouth and, to fix it, rolled his jumper around his head. They shouted, ‘Don’t speak, go back to Serbia’,” another report said about an Afghan, who described the violence allegedly used by the Croatian police in October.

NGOs have registered repeated push-backs and violence on the borders between Slovenia and Croatia, Croatia and Serbia and Serbia and Hungary.

Most of the violence was allegedly committed along the Serbian borders by the Croatian and Hungarian police, illegally deporting refugees back to Serbia.

Slovenian police mostly pushed back refugees to Croatia, from where the police further pushed them back to Serbia, forming so-called "push-back chains".

The report specifies that 76 of these cases were allegedly committed by the Croatian police, 16 by the Hungarian police and 12 by the Slovenian police.

Rigardu said at least two-thirds of those interviewed had expressed a wish to apply for asylum. Therefore, the NGO claims that the push-backs violated the Geneva Convention, the European Charter of Human Rights and Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Croatia's Interior Ministry told BIRN that its police did not use undue force. Officers carried out their duty to try to prevent migrants from illegally entering Croatia, without expulsions.

“We do not support any form of violence or intolerance by police officers, especially towards migrants who are in a vulnerable position and seek international protection in the Republic of Croatia. However, no such event has been confirmed so far,” it said.

Slovenia's Interior Ministry told BIRN it was also not aware of such alleged conduct on the part of its police.

“As the Slovenian police is committed to maintaining high standards of professionalism and the legality of its work, especially in upholding human rights, your claims have come as a great surprise. We are not aware of any such cases of push-backs and violence by the Slovenian police,” the ministry stated.

The Hungarian Interior Ministry told BIRN that it wished to draw “attention to the fact that the Hungarian police protect the borders of the EU and Hungary”.

It said that the state prosecutor's office had all the information on all potential disciplinary processes against police who may have used violence. The state prosecutor's office did not reply to BIRN’s inquiry by the time of publication, however.

Rigardu reported about the Croatian police' use of violence against refugees in late June, which the Interior Ministry then denied.

Other groups have also reported police violence and the unlawful treatment of refugees earlier this year, however.

In January, the Jesuit Refugee Service reported the Croatian Interior Ministry to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, and to the Croatian ombudsman's office, for illegally deporting refugees to Serbia.

The same month, Human Rights Watch said the Croatian police were not respecting the rights of asylum-seekers arriving in the country and had been pushing them back to Serbia.

The refugee crisis on the so-called Balkan route, which struck Croatia in September 2015, has eased since Balkan countries collectively closed their borders to refugees and migrants in March 2016.

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