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Refugee rights ‘under attack’ at Europe’s borders, UN warns

Human Rights Politics

Refugee rights ‘under attack’ at Europe’s borders, UN warns

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The right to asylum is coming under increasing attack at Europe’s borders, the UN’s refugee body is warning.

UNHCR says it is alarmed by mounting expulsions and pushbacks of refugees and asylum-seekers and is calling for states to urgently investigate and halt increasing violence against people at Europe’s land and sea borders.

The 1951 refugee convention, the European convention on human rights and EU law require states to protect the right of people to seek asylum and governments cannot automatically deny entry or forcibly return or push back people without assessing their need for protection.

“Respecting human lives and refugee rights is not a choice, it’s a legal and moral obligation. While countries have the legitimate right to manage their borders in accordance with international law, they must also respect human rights. Pushbacks are simply illegal,” said Gillian Triggs, assistant high commissioner for protection.

UNHCR was receiving a “continuous stream of reports of states restricting access to asylum, returning people”, she said

Triggs said: “The pushbacks are carried out in a violent and apparently systematic way. Boats carrying refugees are being rounded up after they land and then pushed back to sea. Many have reported violence and abuse by state forces. People arriving by land are also being informally detained and forcibly returned to neighbouring countries without any consideration of their international protection needs.”

In December a 1,500-page “black book” documenting hundreds of illegal pushbacks was handed over to the European commission. The reporting focused on the Balkan migration route, a journey known for hardship and violence.

On the sea border between Turkey and Greece, NGOs have collected evidence of refugees being ill-treated and sent illegally from Greek waters back towards Turkish shores.

As the Guardian reported, pushbacks in Greece appear to involve teams of unidentified men in black uniforms intercepting boats and forcibly returning refugees to Turkish waters.

The EU border force agency Frontex is already under investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud watchdog, Olaf, over a range of claims including allegations that its guards had been involved in forcing refugees and migrants out of EU waters at a Greek-Turkish maritime border.

The most incendiary claims about the involvement of Frontex border guards in pushbacks – denied by the agency – are also the subject of an internal investigation.

In a statement in October Frontex restated its commitment to preventing refoulement, or illegal pushbacks, of people seeking international protection.

UNHCR said that the Covid-19 pandemic should not be used as an excuse to deny the right to asylum or refugee status

“The Covid-19 pandemic provides no exception; it is possible to protect against the pandemic and to ensure access to fair and speedy asylum processes,” said Triggs.

She said that the numbers of arrivals into the EU are decreasing each year. Around 95,000 people arrived by sea and land in 2020, a drop of 23% on the previous year.

“With so few arrivals to Europe, this should be a manageable situation. It is regrettable that the issue of asylum remains politicised and divisive despite such declining numbers.”

Source: Euro News

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