The Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) in London submitted a written document to the United Nations Human Rights Council as part of Agenda Item 3 of the Council’s fifty-second session.
Entitled “Torture against Migrants on the Balkan Route: When the Dream of Human Dignity Becomes a Nightmare”, the statement is circulated in accordance with Economic and Social Council resolution 1996/31.
“The lack of safe and legal routes continues to push people in need of protection to dangerous irregular routes including along the Western Balkans”, the stamen read. “Frontex reported 330,000 irregular border crossings at the EU’s external border in 2022, marking an increase of 64 per cent from the previous year.”
PRC said Palestinian refugees, including those fleeing war-torn Syria, and who are trying to access the EU in search of safety and dignity are being routinely abused by law enforcement officials on the so-called Balkan Route, which begins in Turkey, goes through Bulgaria or Greece and winds its way through various former republics of Yugoslavia.
“The route has made headlines at the height of the refugee crisis, as it has been the primary path to countries in Western Europe for millions of migrants and asylum seekers, including Palestinian refugees”, the statement adds.
PRC said that dozens of women and children, including infants, died at sea in inhumane pushback operations by Coast Guard on the Balkan route. Migrants are subjected to violence and intimidation; Those seeking international protection are systematically denied access to asylum procedures.
The statement warned that authorities in such Balkan countries as Hungary, Greece, Croatia, and Austria have been involved in brutal tactics to forcibly push people back to the places they have come from, including beatings with batons, electric shocks, setting dogs on them and forcing them to remove their clothes in freezing temperatures.
PRC said such acts of violence are truly shocking and contravene international law, including the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which stipulate that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Article 3 of the ECHR also prohibits the use of torture or of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
PRC said that on several occasions, authorities in Balkan countries have not done all that could reasonably be expected of them to prevent boat tragedies and protect the people on board. Authorities also rarely, if ever, carry out thorough investigations capable of shedding light on the circumstances in which migrant boats sink and pushbacks turn into tragedies.
PRC referred to “the shocking, unforgettable, and scandalous images of the partially clothed bodies of 12 people lying by the roadside on the Greek-Turkish border, after they froze to death, with some wearing only shorts and T-shirts despite the cold. They were part of a larger group that had been pushed back by Greek Border Units. Temperatures in the area fall to between two and three degrees Celsius at night.”
PRC said these countries’ failure to address the serious allegations of pushbacks and violence against people at its borders is unacceptable.
It called on Balkan countries to cease all violations at their borders and establish independent and effective border monitoring mechanisms to investigate allegations and examine whether degrading treatment of migrants is part of a de facto government policy.
Download the document here