Police beat migrants in Serbia and Macedonia, and force them to pay bribes, Amnesty International has claimed. Thousands of refugees travel through those countries every year, in an attempt to sneak across the EU border.
The non-EU members Serbia and Macedonia had become "a sink for the overflow of refugees and migrants that nobody in the EU seems willing to receive," Amnesty's representative Gauri van Gulik said Tuesday.
"Thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants - including children - making dangerous journeys across the Balkans are suffering violent abuse and extortion at the hands of the authorities and criminal gangs," according to a new report by the London-based group.
The people fleeing war, poverty and persecution are being "shamefully let down" by EU institutions, Amnesty International says, stressing that migrants stranded in non-EU Balkan countries are left without protection.
The new report is based on four research missions to Serbia, Hungary, Greece and Macedonia in 2014 and 2015, as well as interviews with more than 100 refugees and migrants.
Beatings and bribes
The number of people arrested on the EU border between Serbia and Hungary has risen by more than 2,500 percent since 2010 - from 2,370 to 60,602, according to Amnesty.
Migrants reported being pushed, slapped, kicked and beaten by Serbian police near the Hungarian border. Many of them were forced to pay bribes of up to 100 euros ($110) on their way through the Balkans, according to the rights group.
"I saw men badly beaten. They beat my 13-year-old son. They beat me too," one Afghan refugee told Amnesty.
Hundreds of migrants were also held with limited access to sanitation and health care in Macedonia, Amnesty said. Former detainees told the right's group that they had been beaten by the police, with others forced to sleep on stairs without blankets, hot water, nor food.
Last month, Serbian police arrested 29 police officers and nine customs officials, accusing them of letting illegal migrants enter Hungary after paying them bribes.
"Serbia and Macedonia have to do much more to respect migrants and refugees' rights," van Gulik said.
"But it is impossible to separate the human rights violations there, from the broader pressures of the flow of migrants and refugees into and through the EU, and a failed EU migration system."
Lost at sea
European nations are struggling with a flood of immigrants fleeing from crisis areas in North Africa and the Middle East. Most of the refugees are headed towards wealthier European countries such as Germany, Sweden or Norway, where they intend to request asylum.
More and more migrants use the Balkan route to reach Western Europe, which is considered less deadly that sailing across the Mediterranean from Libya. More than 1,800 people have died trying to cross the sea in this year alone, according to the United Nations.