Pandemic does not deter violence at borders

Despite the ongoing pandemic, examples of violent pushbacks and increased deaths at the EU’s land and sea borders continue unabated. From the Central Mediterranean, to the Aegean Sea and the Balkan Route, governments continue to blatantly violate their obligations under EU and international law. Particularly trampled upon, and in total impunity, is the principle of non-refoulement under international human rights law, which guarantees that no one should be returned to a country where they would face persecution.

Since the beginning of June, at least 90 people lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean, and dozens are still missing, in a series of deadly shipwrecks off the coasts of Libya and Tunisia. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), over 4,800 migrants have been intercepted at sea by the so-called Libyan Coast Guard and brought back to Tripoli since January 2020. This happens despite the fact that Libya is not a safe port.

The EU guilty by proxy, investigations called

A recent investigation by Alarm Phone, Sea Watch, Mediterranea and Borderline Europe shows the key role of EU aerial assets to detect migrant boats. This information is then passed on the so-called Libyan Coast Guard who intercepts the boats and returns migrants back to Libya. This is a systematic violation of the EU’s search and rescue obligations and commitment to human rights.

Violent pushbacks and human rights violations have also occurred in Malta, Cyprus, Croatia and Greece with migrants sent back towards countries that do not respect fundamental rights.

Numerous incidents of pushbacks, delays and/or refusal to carry out rescue operations have been documented in the Aegean Sea and at the Greek-Turkish border. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has called on Greece to investigate such pushbacks at the borders with Turkey.

Several reports also denounce the pushbacks at the Croatia-Serbia border and the physical and psychological police abuses and torture of migrants and asylum seekers, in the complete impunity of the Croatian police. An investigation by The Guardian reveals that “European Commission’s officials ‘covered up’ Croatia’s failure to protect migrants from border brutality”. UN Special Rapporteurs have called for investigations and sanctions related to Croatian police brutality in migrant pushback operations.

These pushbacks also reveal the institutional racism existing within EU border management policies as well as national migration policies. Various NGOs and international organisations have called to investigate and put an end to these unlawful practices, and on the European Commission to take a stronger stance towards these violations of human rights, EU and international law.