Lighthouse reports, evidence collected by a nonprofit organization reveal that Immigrants In recent months masked men have been shot and killed during “pushback” operations Croatia, Romania And Greece.
Although their clothing has no signs, these masked men are members of the national police unit, receiving funding from the EU for border patrols, according to the investigation, produced in partnership with Der Spiegel, SRF Rundschau and ARD.
The findings have raised fears about Europe’s growing pushback – deportation that violates EU law and the Geneva Refugee Convention – and the EU’s “complication” with practice.
Experts say that as the UK plans to begin using pushback techniques in the English Channel, it will attempt to return asylum seekers to France by small boat – a violation of maritime laws and put migrants at serious risk.
In a footage shot on Croatian soil in June as part of the investigation, armed men dressed in balaclavas are seen lashing Afghan and Pakistani asylum seekers, pushing them into the Korana River into Borania and Herzegovina.
One of the masked men could see his baton crashing into the legs of the men, causing them to stumble across the border river, where the water was in the chest, before shouting, “Go to Bosnia.”
In interviews with expatriates directly after the incident, they sought asylum when they encountered Afghan and Pakistani and Croatian police officers. He revealed the markings on his body.
Analysis of the scenario showed that masked men were armed and that the Croatian riot police had uniforms and would receive funding from the EU to help secure border security.
Croatian officials interviewed for the investigation believe the masked men in the video were riot police officers. This assessment is supported by a separate recording from May this year, which shows the officer conducting a push-back with riot police marks on his uniform.
A Bosnian police officer, who did not wish to be named, described what was being done to immigrants by Croatian authorities, describing it as “rape on specific people” and said it was “torture”.
“I’ve seen people beaten, injured, bloody, many times … minors, 16-year-olds. There were children too, though the children were not tortured,” he said.
The official said that Croatian police “try to disguise themselves by dismantling their signs and putting masks on their faces.”
The state employs men to perform these operations, for which they receive extra pay, and some of them receive extra money from asylum seekers, he said.
No one controls their activities. He said his only task was to return all immigrants found illegally in the Republic of Croatia, nobody would see them.
Nazila, a 16-year-old Afghan citizen who is currently in Bosnia with her parents and younger brother, said she saw police recently kicking her brother and stealing his money when the family tried to cross into Croatia.
The teenager, who lived in Iran most of her life before her family fled to Europe, said: “Commandos hit him, kicked him in the back and under the ribs. He said: ‘Go back, go back to Afghanistan’.
“They say it’s not possible [to ask for asylum] In Croatia. If you tell them that you are not going back to Bosnia, they will get angry.
Said Jelena Cesar, a researcher at Amnesty International’s Europe office Independent It is “undeniable” that the uniforms, weapons and equipment of the masked men were used exclusively by the Croatian riot police.
“What’s particularly disturbing is that the European Commission continues to keep an eye out for the astounding violations of EU laws and financing police and border operations in these countries,” he said.
Ms Cesar pointed out that in July, shortly after the video was recorded, Croatia was awarded emergency funding from the European Commission of € 14m (£ 11.9m).
“As in previous years, this fund also includes some equipment and the salaries of police officers at the border, so that the EU will be directly assisted by the Croatian police in clear violations of EU laws,” he said.
The investigation has also compiled publicly available video footage of 635 alleged pushback incidents carried out by Greek border officials in Aegean since March 2020 – including 15 masked men.
Asylum seekers face violent setbacks in the Aegean Sea
In one incident at least 25 asylum seekers tried to reach the shores of Kos Island on Dingy. They were blocked by Greek coast guards, who were struck with a stick and then shot in the water. The group was later acquired by the Turkish coast guard.
Separate pieces from Romania show that border guards carry out pushback operations on the Serbian border. The investigation gathered testimony from men and women trapped in these pushbacks, who testified that they were violently assaulted during the operation.
Catherine Woollard, executive director of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), said the “shocking” findings “add to the emerging evidence of violent push-ups taking place on the EU border” which are “illegal and morally” disgusting “.
He called on the EU Commission to “make it tougher” when it does not comply with regulations that include the action and treatment of people at the borders.
“We look at the context of the tolerance of these actions, or what can be described as impunity when there are obvious violations,” he said.
A Croatian spokesman said police directors would continue to determine both the timing and location of the video recording to determine “all relevant facts” and that they would “urgently send a team of experts” to the area.
EU spokesmen have “strongly opposed” pushback practices and “continually clarified” to national authorities that any such practices are “illegal and they should investigate any allegations, any wrongdoing in establishing and properly following the facts”.
“To this end, the Commission is pursuing serious concerns based on the evidence and reports presented by both the European Parliament and the UNHCR, which they have raised with national authorities,” he said.
Greek and Romanian officials did not respond to a request for comment.