Despite a significant drop in refugee and migrant arrivals, children still face excessive police vio-lence at the EU’s borders, and find it increasingly hard to access asylum or reunite with their par-ents.
Refugee and migrant arrivals in Europe have tested the ability of countries to manage migration flows while ensuring the full respect of fundamental rights and international obligations. While challenges with rescue operations during dangerous sea arrivals are well known, the attitude and behaviour of border guards at the land borders is not as well documented.
Countries have the prerogative to control and regulate who is entering or leaving their territory, but they do not have the right to commit systemic and brutal acts of violence against people try-ing to access their right to asylum, and especially against children and vulnerable families.
In the Western Balkans, refugees and migrants attempting to reach Greece, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania, Kosovo* and Macedonia (FYROM) in order to apply for asylum are often violently pushed back across borders.
Save the Children’s partner organization in Belgrade collected 1,376 testimonies of push backs involving children in 2018, out of which 934 cases were reported by unaccompanied and separat-ed children. Excessive use of force by police/guards was reported in 515 cases involving children, out of which 436 cases involved children travelling alone
Children travelling with their families or alone report being threatened, in some cases with weap-ons and being beaten by border guards, who were hitting and kicking them, often using batons. They testify to being chased and bitten by dogs and humiliated, sometimes forced to take off their clothes and shoes. According to the testimonies, some border guards were using pepper sprays, taking away phones from refugees and migrants and breaking them, or taking away mon-ey and other valuable possessions. Children and families testified about being held in detention sometimes deprived of water and food.
Boy, ten-years-old, from Afghanistan travelled to Croatia in a group of 19 people, his extended family, which included children, teenage girls and two older women:
We were crossing the border during the night. I was scared, and other children were as well. We couldn’t see a thing. Then the police patrol appeared. They said “stop” and then searched us. We had some money and phones. They took our money – they stole it from us – and our phones as well. One of them said: “We will not beat you now, but if you come again…” and then he showed with his hand how he will beat us if we do come again. I think they are bad people.
Family from Afghanistan travelled with a one-year-old baby after spending months in a refugee centre in Greece: We were intercepted by the Croatian police. They took our phones, broke them, and then they took our money. They gave us back our broken phones, and pushed us back to Bos-nia. The Bosnian police drove us to the Serbian border and told us to go back to Serbia.