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Which EU countries are accused of pushing back migrants?

June 18, 2024

The Greek coastguard is the latest European border agency accused of forcibly returning migrants. Here's an overview of the EU countries facing such claims.

A Greek coastguard boat is seen at sea
Greece has faced many accusations of forcibly returning migrants, a practice known as pushbacksImage: Griechische Küstenwache/dpa/picture alliance

Greek coastguards have been accused of pushing back migrants and asylum seekers, resulting in dozens of deaths at sea, according to a BBC investigation based on witness statements.  While Greece's Maritime Ministry rejects these claims, it says the National Transparency Authority will review the footage obtained by the broadcaster.

European border authorities have been accused for years of using illegal practices such as pushbacks, whereby migrants crossing national border are sent back by force or under threat of force without being able to apply for asylum.

The practice violates a number of international laws, including the Geneva Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights and EU law, numerous legal experts say.

 Here is an overview of the EU countries facing claims of carrying out pushbacks.


One of the main routes that people use to migrate to the European Union is via Turkey into Greece. This puts pressure in Greek border authorities. Media outlets and human rights organizations, meanwhile, have reported numerous violations of international refugee law both in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey and along the land border of the two nations. Officials have at times remained silent when confronted with such accusations. Other times, they have rejected such claims or announced they will launch investigations into the matters.  

A crowded boat is seen at sea
The Adriana is seen moments before capsizingImage: Hellenic Coast Guard/REUTERS

Almost exactly a year ago, a dilapidated fishing boat called the Adriana capsized off the Greek coast near Pylos. Of the more than 700 migrants on board, only 104 survived. Asylum and human rights organizations accuse the Greek coast guard of having made efforts to tow the boat into Italian waters despite knowing it was in distress.


Croatian border guards are accused of forcibly returning migrants to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Alleged victims also accuse officers of beating, robbing and humiliating them in many instances. Croatia's government usually rejects any such accusations.


The Hungarian government openly admits supporting the forced deportation of migrants from Hungary to Serbia without giving them the opportunity to apply for asylum.


Thousands of refugees arrive in Spain every year via two main routes. The first runs from the west coast of Africa to the Canary Islands while the second is from Morocco to the two Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in northern Africa. Reports indicate that migrants are forcibly deported from Spanish soil to Morocco, especially from Ceuta and Melilla, often in violation of international law. Time and again, migrants die, especially when large groups of African refugees try to storm the border fence.

Crowds of people are seen near a tall fence, plumes of white smoke are visible
Spanish border agents use tear gas to repel migrants in May 2021 Image: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images


The most popular migration route to Italy is from northern Africa to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa. Italian authorities are often criticized for the harsh treatment of migrants, the poor conditions in Lampedusa reception camps and the hasty return of migrants without granting them legal recourse. Human rights organizations accuse Italy of criminalizing aid organizations and their employees, among them sea rescue activists in the Mediterranean. Italy's right-wing government declared a six-month state of emergency in spring 2023 due to a surge in migrant arrivals.


The European Union's border and coast guard agency Frontex is tasked with monitoring the external borders of those EU countries which are part of the Schengen Agreement and have abolished internal borders.

Frontex has been accused of illegal pushbacks since at least 2009, when the agency is said to have boarded refugee boats in the Atlantic and sent them back to Senegal. Frontex agents are also said to have forcibly turned back refugees on rickety boats in the Mediterranean, abandoning them on the high seas.

Protesters are seen with a large placard, demanding an end to pushbacks
Protesters demand an end to pushbacks near Athens in June 2023Image: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

Frontex is also regularly accused of tolerating human rights violations committed by national border authorities. In 2019, several media outlets citing internal documents reported that Frontex officials were committing crimes along the Schengen border. Frontex agents were allegedly involved in pushing back and abusing refugees in the Aegean Sea and on the Turkish-Greek land border.

News broke in early 2021 that the Frontex management board and the EU corruption authority OLAF were investigating Frontex agents over these incidents and their cover-up within the agency. In April 2022, the then Frontex Director Fabrice Leggeri resigned over these and other allegations.

There have been calls for a fundamental Frontex reform, but accusations of misconduct still have not subsided.

This article originally written in German.

DW-Redakteur Jan D. Walter Kommentarbild App PROVISORISCH
Jan D. Walter Editor and reporter for national and international politics and member of DW's fact-checking team.