Brussels is putting pressure on: Greece and Croatia are considering pushbacks

A permanent topic has moved with force onto the Brussels agenda: Videos document violence against refugees at the EU’s external border and “shock” the EU. Croatia and Greece promise to investigate, although it is clearly elite state units that are pushing back migrants.

After media reports about the violent pushing back of refugees at the EU’s external border, Greece has promised to clarify the situation after Croatia. “Every allegation” will be investigated by the Greek judiciary, said Migration Minister Notis Mitarachi at the EU interior ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg. The EU Commission had previously put pressure on both countries. “That doesn’t work in Europe,” said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn about the so-called pushbacks.

According to research by “Spiegel”, the ARD magazine “Monitor” and the media from other European countries, the Croatian intervention police and Greek elite units in particular actively engage in illegal pushbacks at their borders – that is, they prevent people from entering the EU or sometimes push them forcibly. Video recordings from the media show how masked people beat people at the border, some with batons, and chase them out of the country.

“Of course Greece will investigate the allegations,” said Migration Minister Mitarachi after a meeting with EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson and Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic. Before that, Mitarachi had fought vehemently against the allegations. “The Greek borders are the EU’s borders and we act within the framework of international and European law to protect them,” he said on Thursday.

Misuse of EU funds for border protection?

EU Interior Commissioner Johansson called the media reports “shocking” and put pressure on both countries to clarify. There are also “convincing indications” of the misuse of EU funds, since the operations of border guards at the EU’s external borders are partly financed from Brussels. This must also be investigated, demanded the interior commissioner.

At noon, the interior ministers of the 27 EU countries discussed the topic for the first time in Luxembourg. The Luxembourg Foreign Minister Asselborn, who is also responsible for immigration and asylum, called it something “very urgent that the Commission should intervene”. Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer did not take part in the meeting. The Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic ordered a “comprehensive investigation” of the video recordings on Thursday. Croatia respects laws and international regulations, he stressed. He added, however, that “like any other country, it is our job to protect our border and stop illegal migration”.

Police units and coast guard as border guards

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said on Twitter that the latest “shocking reports” were part of a “long line of reports about the unacceptable normalization of pushbacks and violence against asylum seekers and migrants”. It is “high time” that states “effectively investigate, take action, hold each other accountable and put an end to such serious human rights violations.”

Croatia and Greece are on the Balkan route, which is used by migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa towards Western Europe. Migrants try to enter Croatia mainly from Bosnia and Herzegovina, to Greece they arrive by sea and land from Turkey. Croatian border guards have repeatedly been accused of police violence against migrants. In Greece, the coast guard in particular is said to be violent or at least ruthless against boat refugees.