The EU has demanded investigations from Croatia and Greece over alleged illegal push-backs of asylum seekers at their borders. It is "deeply concerned" about media reports of refugees being pushed back, in some cases violently, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said Thursday in Brussels. The government in Zagreb announced a "comprehensive investigation" into the reports, while Athens categorically rejected the allegations.
According to research published Wednesday by Der Spiegel and media from other EU countries, Croatian intervention police and Greek elite units in particular are actively conducting pushbacks at their borders. Romanian security forces are also mentioned in the research, which is based mainly on video footage. According to the footage, the forces often conceal their identities by wearing uniforms without insignia and balaclavas.
"Some of this information is shocking and I am very concerned," Johansson said. Such allegations "really damage our reputation as a European Union." There is also "convincing evidence" of misuse of EU funds, he said, as border guards' operations at the EU's external borders are partly co-funded by Brussels. This must be investigated, the interior commissioner demanded.
Johansson announced she would raise the issue at a meeting of EU interior ministers this evening with Greek Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi and Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said he had tasked Bozinovic with a "comprehensive investigation" into the video footage. Croatia "respects its laws and international regulations," he said. He added, however, that "like any other country, we have a duty to protect our border and stop illegal migrations."
Interior Minister Bozinovic said there was "no place for violence in the Croatian police." Investigators would look into the reports. "A team of experts is on the ground today to determine what happened, who was involved and where it happened." When its report is available, Zagreb "will decide on further steps," he said.
Greece's Migration Minister Mitarachi, however, protested vehemently. He refused to "apologize" for Greece's ongoing involvement. "Greek borders are the borders of the EU and we act within the framework of international and European law to protect them." Greece had repeatedly and systematically denied similar accusations in the past.
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said on Twitter that the latest "shocking reports" joined a "long line of reports on the unacceptable normalization of pushbacks and violence against asylum seekers and migrants." He said it was "high time" for states to "effectively investigate, take action, hold each other accountable, and end such grave human rights violations."
Croatia and Greece are located on the Balkan route, which is used by migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa towards Western Europe. Migrants attempt to enter Croatia mainly from Bosnia, and Greece by sea and land from Turkey. Croatian border guards have already been repeatedly accused of police violence against migrants. In Greece, the coast guard in particular is said to take violent or at least highly ruthless action against boat people.
Image by Jim Black