NGOs report widespread push-back practices and denial of access to state territory to asylum seekers in Central and Eastern Europe

In the beginning of 2017 the Hungarian Helsinki Committee published the report “Pushed Back at the Door: Denial of Access to Asylum in Eastern EU Member States” describing push-back practices in 5 countries from Central and Eastern Europe: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia.

The report found that the increased border control and the construction of physical and legal barriers restricting access to protection for people fleeing war and persecution “present bleak picture of Europe’s response to the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War”. According to the authors, the anti-immigrant political discourse in Central and Eastern Europe left little to no space for the implementation of the international obligation of states to grant migrants the right to seek asylum and protection. As a result, the responses to the increased number of asylum seekers by these countries varied and ranged from violent push-backs, through the denial of entry, to proposed legislative changes restricting access to protection.

The report on Bulgaria was written by Georgi Voynov from the Refugees and Migrants Legal Defence Programme of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee. The report quotes the Ministry of Interior (MOI) statistics showing that in 2016 the total number of migrants apprehended by the MOI dropped to around 18 000 compared to 34 056 in total for 2015. Despite the fact that the work on the barbed wire fence (which is planned to stretch along Bulgaria’s 230-km long border with Turkey by January 2017) intensified, in 2016 there was an increase in the percentage of people apprehended inside the territory of the state and not at the fence/ border: 48% of all in 2016 compared to 32% in 2015.

According to the report during the period of May to October 2016, the BHC received 33 reports of robbery, physical violence and degrading treatment against irregular migrants. According to these reports, at least 600 people trying to cross the border were affected but the actual numbers are deemed higher. The collected data are based on the BHC’s systemic border monitoring, including interviews with asylum-seekers, which the organization performs as part of its official agreement with the authorities.

The report further notes that a significant part of the complaints that the BHC received (45%) concern physical violence “including knocking to the ground, kicking, beating people with batons and in one case – a handgun grip”. In some case the policemen used warning shots (shooting in the air). The report recalls that in a similar accident on 15 October 2015 a 19-year old Afghani man was killed after a border policeman allegedly used a warning shot and the bullet ricocheted killing the person. In June 2016, the Burgas Regional Prosecutor’s Office discontinued the investigation concluding that the result of the officer’s conduct was accidental and could not have been foreseen.

The full text of the report is available here.