WARNING: The following images may shock viewers.
The Balkan route for migrants travelling to Europe was closed in March 2016 after Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia decided to shut their borders to migrants seeking asylum in Europe. Since then, many humanitarian organisations have recorded an increase in migrants being forcibly sent back across the border and in violence against migrants by border security forces.
No Border Serbia, a group based in Belgrade that campaigns for migrants’ rights and freedom of movement in Europe’s Schengen zone, is one of the organisations to document an uptick in attacks. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), more than 5,500 migrants are currently stuck in Serbia.
The majority of that number plan to cross the border to get to Croatia or Hungary, both member states of the European Union. However, with the two borders now closed and under heavy surveillance, the journey has become more dangerous than before. Those who attempt the journey often fall victim to police violence, particularly at the Hungarian border.
On its website, No Border Serbia published a series of photos showing the injuries that migrants had received.
“We’re seeing migrants arrive with broken legs, others with head injuries from being hit”
We have gone to see migrant camps situated near the Hungarian border. We publish photos taken by our members but also by the migrants themselves.
The majority of the migrants in the photos have tried to get into Hungary. In lots of cases, the situation is the same: they try to get into Hungary via Serbia, they’re caught by the police, which is sometimes a violent confrontation, and then they’re sent back to Serbia. [Editor’s note: The Serbian president Tomislav Nikolić recently spoke about needing to “close the border to migrants” if they continue to come into Serbia without being able to carry on towards Western Europe because of the Hungarian and Croatian borders being closed off.] We are seeing migrants arrive with broken legs, others with head injuries from being hit.
Every day we are collecting accounts and images of the injuries that the Hungarian police are inflicting on the migrants: using dogs who bite them, pepper spray, Tasers, and truncheons.
But it’s not only physical violence — lots of migrants have told us about being humiliated by the police. For example, they talk about how the police smash their mobile phones, when most of them need internet in order to find their way while they’re travelling.
Photo courtesy of No Border Serbia.
We’ve also noticed an increase in migrants being expelled for no reason, usually violently. Every day we see people who have been trying to get into Hungary or Croatia but have been sent back forcibly to Serbia.
In a report made public on November 3, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment called on Hungary to signal to its police force that ill-treatment would not be tolerated.
This summer, the NGO Doctors Without Borders condemned the deteriorating humanitarian and medical situation in Serbia. It noted that in one in ten consultations for psychological support, migrants were suffering from trauma such as physical abuse or torture, imprisonment, kidnapping, or sexual violence. Amongst the victims, 65% said that they had been abused at the hands of Hungarian police and 35% said they had been assaulted by thieves, smugglers or other migrants.
In a BBC report from October, the Hungarian minister of foreign affairs denied all accusations of police violence towards refugees and insisted that those who propagated the story were liars.
No Border Serbia has also collected evidence of violence at the Serbian-Croatian border, although instances are less frequent according to the organisation.
There are fewer migrants accusing Croatian police. One of the few examples concerning Croatia that we have is a video of two minors who say they were injured by officers in uniform.
Screen grab from a video published by No Border Serbia.
We met them and they gave us the video. All that we know is that it was filmed in Croatia, before the two minors were sent back to Serbia.