UN's refugee chief said violence, ill-treatment and pushbacks continued to be regularly reported at multiple entry points at land and sea borders, within and beyond the European Union.

The UN refugee chief has said that European states are busy erecting walls and fences instead of rectifying the problem.
The UN refugee chief has said that European states are busy erecting walls and fences instead of rectifying the problem. (AFP)

The United Nations refugee chief has voiced alarm at increasing violence against refugees and migrants at European borders, warning that rights abuses and illegal pushbacks across frontiers risked becoming "normalised".

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Monday criticised the growing number of incidents of abuse targeting people trying to cross borders into various European countries, including several that have cost lives.

"Violence, ill-treatment and pushbacks continue to be regularly reported at multiple entry points at land and sea borders, within and beyond the European Union despite repeated calls…to end such practices," he said in a statement.

He highlighted in particular the consistent reports coming from Greece's land and sea borders with Türkiye, pointing out that the UN refugee agency UNHCR had recorded nearly 540 reported incidents of informal returns by Greece since the start of 2020.

"Disturbing incidents are also reported in central and southeastern Europe at the borders with EU member states," Grandi said.

Many incidents of illegal pushbacks and abuse are never reported, but the UN refugee chief said his agency had nonetheless spoken with thousands of people across Europe who had experienced such practices, revealing "a disturbing pattern of threats, intimidation, violence and humiliation."

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‘Deplorable practices’

The UN refugee chief stressed that people have a right to seek asylum and that right does not depend on the mode of their arrival to a country.

"At sea, people report being left adrift in life rafts or sometimes even forced directly into the water, showing a callous lack of regard for human life," he said, pointing out that at least three people are reported to have died in such incidents since September 2021 in the Aegean Sea, including one in January.

"Equally horrific practices are frequently reported at land borders, with consistent testimonies of people being stripped and brutally pushed back in harsh weather conditions."

With few exceptions, European states have failed to investigate such reports, Grandi said, lamenting that instead of rectifying the problem, authorities are busy erecting walls and fences to make it even harder for refugees and migrants to cross.

UNHCR had also received reports saying that "some refugees may have been returned to their country of origin, despite the risks they faced there," Grandi said, warning that such practices could violate the international legal principle of non-refoulement.

He stressed that walls and fences were unlikely to serve as a deterrent for people fleeing war and persecution. But they would surely "contribute to greater suffering of individuals in need of international protection, particularly women and children, and prompt them to consider different, often more dangerous routes and likely result in further deaths."

"We fear these deplorable practices now risk becoming normalised, and policy based," Grandi said.

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Source: AFP