The EU Border “Pushbacks” May Have Become a De Facto Migration Policy

Where Have Alleged Pushbacks Been Recorded?
A coalition of NGOs, the Border Violence Monitoring Network, claims to have gathered testimonies of illegal expulsions affecting some 25,000 people since 2017, British daily newspaper The Guardian reported late last year.

Pushback incidents have been documented at various spots on the EU’s external borders in the past decade, according to Stephanie Pope, a migration expert at the non-governmental organization Oxfam.

On land, they have been reported for example on the Evros river at the Greek-Turkish border, at the Spanish-Moroccan border in the Spanish enclave of Melilla, at the borders of Poland and Belarus, Hungary and Serbia, and Croatia-Bosnia and Herzegovina.

At sea, Greek authorities have been accused of pushing boats back before they reach EU waters. The Italian coast guard has also allegedly pushed back boats into Libyan waters.

The EU also has struck formal deals with Libya, and most recently Tunisia, offering funds for authorities to prevent irregular crossings into EU territory before they occur.

The EU says this is to tackle people-smuggling and stop migrants making perilous crossings, but for Pope of Oxfam, these amount to “pullbacks.”

What Are the Consequences — for Those Pushed and Those Accused of Pushing?
Potential asylum seekers who are pushed back face an array of fates, depending on where it happens, Pope continued. In Greece, where Oxfam has carried out research, people often keep trying to enter the EU. Some succeed, but others end up stuck in Turkey, she said. Some of those pushed back into Libya have reportedly ended up in detention centers. “We still have continuous reports of human slavery, rape, torture, extortion, trafficking,” Pope said.

For Hanaa Hakiki of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), it is worth underlining that no one really knows how many would-be asylum seekers have ended up dead after being turned away.

Death was always one of the risks with pushbacks, because they were always done with a complete sort of recklessness as to what would happen to these people,” Hakiki told DW. The ECCHR, which has litigated for a number of people claiming to have been illegally prevented from entering the EU, has also worked with people who were secretly detained or tortured during a pushback, she said.

So far, countries accused of pushbacks have not faced many consequences, Hakiki added. The European Court of Human Rights has been “lukewarm” towards individual complaints, according to her, and the European Commission has not launched disciplinary proceedings against member states accused of pushbacks specifically. Given the precarious circumstances of asylum seekers and migrants, it is often extremely difficult for anyone who believes they have been illegally expelled to litigate against authorities, she stressed.

Pope of Oxfam told DW that pushbacks appear to have become more systematic in recent years and collaboration with non-EU actors has increased.

The EU is essentially building this kind of complex web of policies, operational measures and third country agreements to stop people from ever being able to claim the right of asylum in the EU,” she said.

It’s becoming a sort of shadow asylum system.”

Ella Joyner is a freelance journalist writing about Europe. This article is published This courtesy of Deutsche Welle (DW).