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Migrants to Europe face 'inhuman' pushbacks — report

March 30, 2023

The Council of Europe has slammed member states for their "degrading treatment" of migrants at the borders. It said many were subjected to "punches and slap blows" by law enforcement officials.

A boat carrying refugees and migrant arrives at Skala Sikaminias, on the Greek island of Lesbos, Greece, Feb. 29, 2020.
The rising number of migrants is an issue for the European countriesImage: Marios Lolos/Xinhua/IMAGO

The Council of Europe's Comittee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) published its annual report on Monday, criticizing member states and particularly those on the EU's external border for "inhuman and degrading treatment" of migrants pushed back from their borders.

Foreign nationals were subjected to "punches, slaps blows with truncheons, other hard objects [...] by police or border guards," the CPT said in the report.

What tactics were used against the migrants?

The report did not list specifics on the numbers of cases or the most likely locations, but spoke of "numerous consistent and credible allegations" of mistreatment "at the borders of several Council of Europe member states."

It said it had examined pushback practices along all of the major known land and sea routes, destined mainly for EU member states in the end, in the Balkans, the Mediterranean and on Europe's eastern borders. 

"Other forms of inhuman and degrading treatment were also deployed, such as firing bullets close to the persons' bodies while they lay on the ground, pushing them into rivers (sometimes with their hands still tied)," the report said.

Officials also coerced the migrants to remove their clothes and shoes, "forcing them to walk barefoot and/or in their underwear and, in some cases, even fully naked across the border."

The CPT also gathered medical evidence, such as dog-bite marks on the limbs of affected people. The supporting evidence for the pushback operations, as mentioned by the victims, was collected by examining informal logbooks, CCTV footage, and photographs at the European frontier, the CPT said.

'Pushbacks must end'

"Many European countries face very complex migration challenges at their borders, but this does not mean they can ignore their human rights obligations. Pushbacks are illegal, unacceptable, and must end," said the head of CPT, Alan Mitchell.

The Committee also urged its 46 member states to ensure that migrants have the right to proper medical and vulnerability assessments and can apply for asylum.

"Detention should only be used as a measure of last resort," the report said.

The migrants should also be protected against ill-treatment during the detention and have access to a lawyer, and be made aware of their rights, the report added. It urged for cases of detention to be accurately recorded.

Fact check: Myths human traffickers tell refugees and migrants

Rising numbers of refugees

More than 5 million people came to Europe at the end of 2016, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) website.

Thousands have been either killed or gone missing during their journeys since 2015.

Also, the number of migrants arriving in Europe doubled in 2022 compared to the previous year, reaching up to 330,000 in numbers, according to EU's border agency Frontex.

Russia's war on Ukraine has also added to migratory pressures as countries face higher food and fuel prices.

Russia was excluded from the Council of Europe and by extension the CPT after its invasion of Kyiv last year.

aa/msh  (AFP)