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Shocking footage reveals beatings of migrants on EU borders

November 08th, 2021
topics: Refugees and Asylum
by: Katarina Panić
located in: Croatia, Romania, Greece, Spain, Poland
tags: asylum seekers, EU, migration crisis

Lighthouse Reports captured the first-ever high-resolution footage of a violent pushback of migrants at the EU border. The Netherlands-based nonprofit led an eight-month-long investigation that involved journalists from Austria, Croatia, France Germany and Switzerland. Their stories were released earlier last month.

The group of journalists confirmed what has been reported ever since the migration crisis erupted in 2015: people on the move have been brutally beaten at EU borders and forcibly pushed back and denied their international right to seek asylum.

With the release of the report, discrepancies between what transpires in real life and EU claims that the activities of border guards must be fully compliant with of fundamental rights became fully apparent. 

This eight-month-long cross-border investigation suggests that the EU members states' security forces conduct covert operations and use excessive force to prevent migrants from seeking asylum.

A transnational network of journalists filmed 11 pushbacks of 148 people, mainly from Afghanistan, at five locations along the border between Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina.

The director of the Lighthouse Reports, Klaas van Dijken, spent a couple of weeks along the border in the forest with powerful lenses and a drone.

"beating people like it's their daily job"

"When we realised that the cracking and the noise were the people screaming - that's something I will never forget," van Dijken told FairPlanet. "Seeing people forced to jump into the river with wounds and red faces is terrible. These people are unarmed, and seeing Croatian officers very casually waving with their batons beating people like it's their daily job is very disturbing." 

Whether or not it is about tacit consent and, therefore, hypocrisy, it is clear that the EU's proclaimed policy towards people on the move does not meet the human rights standards in the field.

This isn't only the case in Croatia, however, but in Greece, Romania, Spain and Poland as well. Amnesty International called the EU - complicit.

"It is alarming that the European Commission continues to turn a blind eye to the staggering violation of EU law and even continues to finance police and border operations in some of these countries," stated Jelena Sesar, a Balkans researcher at Amnesty International. "In July, for example, the European Commission awarded Croatia a €14 million emergency funding grant, despite officials expressing their horror over Croatia's inhumane treatment of migrants. These pushbacks and the funding that facilitates them must end now." 

STATE INVOLVEMENT confirmed beyond doubt

Masked men without identifying insignia are commonplace at the EU's external borders. However, the investigation in Croatia revealed that their uniforms, weapons and equipment are identical to those used exclusively by special forces - neither by border police nor regular police.

Insiders at the Croatian Ministry of Interior told reporters that the Corridor is the internal code name for this operation and that the EU partially finances the activities. The Lighthouse Reports uncovered a similar scenario in Romania and Greece.

"There is no doubt of [the] state's involvement because this is widespread. We didn't film just incidents based on testimonies but also all the other locations we visited along the border. It is happening on so many levels," said van Dijak. "Of course, I don't know if the orders are given to use this amount of violence, but I believe that the orders to do the pushbacks are coming from the highest levels. And I think they created this kind of atmosphere, the space to use violence."

The European Commission called for an investigation over the shocking footage the day after it was published. And yet, Croatian president Zoran Milanović sarcastically asked what else should the police use instead of arms, 'maybe fans'?

It seems that there is tacit consent within the EU that external borders must be protected even at the cost of violating human rights - and that includes as many pushbacks as possible, which ultimately means fewer issues on EU soil. 

a SACRIFICIAL LAMB

"I do think the EU member states and politicians, they all know that this is going on, but they were able to deny that they knew that this kind of practice exists because there wasn't any visual evidence," van Dijak added.

"But this is also a policy that the EU created," he further stated. "They use firm language, strong words, and words matter. If they use words like hybrid war, then that affects the kind of policy that has been implemented on the ground." 

Croatia subsequently suspended three police officers from duty, but it was obviously a sacrificial lamb. 

"The EU must say what it wants from politics, and then it has to ask the member states to translate it into regulations and laws," Željko Cvrtila, a former security adviser in the Croatian government, told local media. "If someone thinks that migrations should be prevented in this way, then let them write it in the law. Otherwise, only police officers and their immediate superiors are brought into the problem." 

Image by Freedom House.

Article written by:
Katarina Panić
Katarina Panić
Author
Croatia Romania Greece Spain Poland
A group of three young asylum seekers walking up a hill after attempting to cross the border. Asylum seekers claimed that they crossed the border into N. Macedonia but the police captured them, beat them and deported them back to Greece. Idomeni, Greece on 6 October, 2021.
© Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Migrants at the German-Polish border border rest while being processed at a newly-opened federal police facility in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany.
© Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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