According to calculations by non-governmental and international organizations, European Union countries illegally drove away about 40,000 migrants during the coronavirus pandemic. Due to these practices, about 2,000 people died, the organizations claims.
Since January last year, some European Union countries in the Mediterranean and the Balkans have significantly tightened their migration policies. Spain, Greece, Croatia, and Italy have agreed with non-member states to detain and return refugees without allowing them to apply for asylum.
The article from the Guardian comes at a time when the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has launched an investigation into the EU’s border agency Frontex over allegations of harassment, abuse, and illegal operations aimed at preventing asylum seekers from reaching the shores of the European Union. Frontex faces suspicion of participating in pushing refugees away, however, the agency’s management denies that officials and employees would engage in illegal practices.
“Recent reports show an increase in the number of deaths of migrants trying to get to Europe, as well as growing cooperation between member and non-member countries, which led to the failure of several rescue operations,” said Italian professor Fulvio Vassallo Paleologo, who teaches asylum law at the University of Palermo.
“In this context, deaths at sea since the beginning of the pandemic have been directly or indirectly linked to the EU’s approach of closing all doors to Europe and the increasing externalization of migration control,” the expert added.
For example, according to NGOs, Greece has illegally sent over 6,000 migrants back to Turkey since January 2020. The BVMN report also states that in 89 percent of cases, organizations observe the disproportionate and excessive use of force.
“Examples of violence recorded in 2020 included beatings, water immersion, and abuse of women and children,” the British media quoted BVMN.
NGOs also note that the “open-air prisons” suggest a lack of respect for democratic values and human rights abuse.
Italy has also been criticized for cooperating with the Libyan Coast Guard and detaining NGO rescue ships. According to statistics, some 15,500 people have been driven back to Libya in this part of the Mediterranean.
According to The Guardian, Croatia and Bosnia have also agreed to drive the refugees away. The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) said that Croatia had transferred up to 18,000 people to Bosnia since the beginning of the pandemic. The British newspaper has previously pointed out the torture and sexual abuse of migrants in the Balkan country.
“Despite the European Commission’s cooperation with the Croatian authorities in recent months, we have seen virtually no progress in the investigation (…),” said Nicola Bay, DRC Director for Bosnia.
She added that similar operations and behavior towards migrants were violations of international law.
In April, the Italian and Libyan maritime authorities faced criticism for not responding quickly enough to requests for assistance from vessels in need. According to the Alarm Phone company, which operates a hotline for ships in distress, this led to an increase in deaths after shipwrecks. “We have seen many shipwrecks that have never been recorded in official statistics,” said the company spokeswoman.
For this reason, she said, the number of deaths of migrants is higher than what government statistics show. According to her, the migrants’ deaths are the fault of Europe, which should be responsible for this.
According to the International Organization for Migration, almost 100,000 immigrants arrived in Europe by the sea in 2020, 30,000 people less than the previous year.
Title image: Migrants and refugees from different African nationalities react on an overcrowded rubber boat, as aid workers of the Spanish NGO Open Arms assist them in the Mediterranean Sea, international waters, off the Libyan coast, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Pablo Tosco)