No lockdown for pushbacks during COVID-19

Migration and Asylum, Press Release

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On the eve of World Refugee Day, EuroMed Rights is extremely concerned by the increasing violations of EU, international and asylum law by EU Member States. Despite a general climate of mobilisation of solidarity in the EU and the MENA region, a deep silence hangs over the violation of human rights and deaths in the Mediterranean.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments have adopted measures to restrict the access to their territories. They closed their borders, declared their ports unsafe and carried out unlawful pushbacks. Some, like Greece, even suspended the asylum law to prevent people fleeing war and persecution from seeking asylum in the EU.

Examples of pushbacks by EU Member States during the pandemic are numerous.

In the Central Mediterranean, increased departures from war-torn Libya and from Tunisia, combined with a lack of search and rescue operations by Member States, led to a terrible increase in shipwrecks and deaths at sea. Within 24 hours, last 17 June, 458 migrants were returned to Tripoli, to a situation of civil war in Libya. On 4-5 June, 61 people, including 22 women and four children, drowned off the coast of Sfax, Tunisia. Malta is under investigation for using private vessels to push migrants back to Libya. Despite these systematic violations of maritime law and international human rights conventions, Malta and Italy continue to support, through staff and funds, the so-called Libyan Coast Guard, which is the main actor responsible for the pushbacks.

On 20 March 2020, the coastguard of the Republic of Cyprus pushed back a boat carrying 175 Syrian asylum seekers who then landed in the self-declared “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”. After being unlawfully detained for more than a month, the group was deported to Turkey and now risks being further deported to Syria, where the security situation and retaliation actions by the regime pose a major threat. In Croatia and at the border with Serbia and Bosnia, violent pushbacks of migrants, including unaccompanied children never stopped.

Systematic human rights violations and pushbacks are also perpetrated by the Greek and Turkish coastguards in the Aegean Sea.

EuroMed Rights calls on the EU Commission to initiate infringement proceedings against the breaching states and to include in the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, soon to be published, a mechanism of sanctions towards Member States violating EU law. Finally, EuroMed Rights urges the EU to put at the heart of its strategy a real mechanism for protection, rescue and safe access to the European territory.