There is mounting evidence of illegal push-backs and mistreatment of people seeking refuge in the European Union by Member States. These acts are contrary to the values of humanity and solidarity defended by the Centre d’action laïque (CAL). They are also in flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention on Refugees, the European Convention on Human Rights and European law.
On the EU’s eastern border between Poland and Belarus, seven people have already lost their lives, and the worsening weather conditions make us fear more tragedies. Hundreds of men, women and children are being sent back to Belarus by Polish border guards, condemned to roaming in forest and marshes. These people fleeing war and persecution are victims of a cynical political game between the dictatorial Belarusian regime and the Polish government, which engages in dehumanising propaganda against the refugees. The latter has also declared a state of emergency along the border, making it impossible for journalists and humanitarian organisations to enter.
The work of the press is essential to uncovering crimes committed at the borders. A recent investigation shows that in Croatia, paramilitary units, without insignia or means of identification, are brutally turning back refugees. In Greece, too, illegal push-backs are de facto state policy, and there are numerous cases of ill-treatment of asylum seekers by Greek forces, border guards or military. Such ill-treatment is so frequent that it has been described as an “entrenched practice” by Amnesty International. Frontex is present and reportedly condones or even participates in these practices, even though it has an obligation to respect the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Its statute states that it must take reasonable measures to protect people from human rights violations and to suspend or cease its activities when such acts are committed.
The European Commissioner for Home Affairs has affirmed the need to investigate and punish violence. This is a positive development but it is not enough. It is urgent that the European Council takes up the issue at its meeting on 21-22 October.
Time is of the essence: The Polish government must allow humanitarian aid and medical teams access to the border area. The authorities of the Member States concerned must stop the illegal practice of “push-back” and violence against asylum seekers. It is crucial for the EU to respect and ensure respect for its values and international obligations.