Testimonies gathered by Save the Children, and its partner in Serbia, found more than 1,350 cases of children being pushed back across borders of European Union and countries in the Western Balkans region between January and November this year.
Almost one third of these cases reportedly involved violence inflicted by police or guards at borders. Cases of violence were in particular reported by children travelling alone or separated from their families – in almost half of the over 900 cases, lone children testified about border guards using force to push them back.
Most of the reported pushbacks occurred at the border between Croatia and Serbia, but children we met in Serbia this year reported also push backs from the borders of Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia (FYROM), Greece, Hungary, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Slovenia.
According to children’s testimonies, some border guards at different borders in the Western Balkans region used pepper sprays on them, took their phones and broke them, stole money from them, forced them to remove clothes and shoes, and set dogs on them. Children and families reported being, in some cases, held in detention without food or water.
"The Hungarian police caught us, forced us to sit and then brutally beat us and humiliated us for 4-5 hours before pushing us back to Serbia. They poured cold water on us, sprayed us with pepper sprays and incited dogs to bite us,’" said a fourteen-year-old boy from Afghanistan.
“Protecting borders can be done in a humane way without using violence” says Jelena Besedic, Programme Director at Save the Children’s Balkans Migration and Displacement Hub. “Border guards should take responsibility and ensure children are safe, registered and can apply for asylum. Better monitoring at borders, by either European border guards or independent human rights bodies could help prevent violent incidents.”
As 2018 draws to a close, the numbers of refugee and migrant arrivals are shown to have dropped to the lowest level since 2007 (source: European Border and Coast Guard Agency). Despite this fall in the number of arrivals, children still face brutal and disproportionate police violence at the EU’s borders, and find it increasingly difficult to access asylum or reunite with their parents.
“With fewer people arriving, European countries should be able to better take care of refugee and migrant children” says Jelena Besedic. “These children already face a unique set of challenges which make them vulnerable. Those in positions of authority should not be intimidating them, robbing them of their possessions or beating them, they should be ensuring they are protected, monitored and safe.”
Save the Children worked with its Serbian partner, Praxis, to conduct the findings about push backs. Through its outreach work in the Serbian capital Belgrade. Praxis collected 6,340 reports of push backs from 5,683 refugees and migrants from January 1st to November 30th, 2018. Out of these cases, 2,212 reportedly involved violence. Until the end of November this year, 934 cases of push backs were reported by unaccompanied and separated children, with 436 of them involving violence. Reports of violent push backs include not only cases in which children reporting experienced violence themselves, but also witnessed violence inflicted on fellow travellers.
In the framework of the programme of support to refugee and migrant population in Serbia, Save the Children also provides child protection services in the Child Friendly Spaces and Adolescent Corners in Serbia's refugee centres, including at the Drop-in Centre Miksaliste in Serbian capital Belgrade, in partnership with local organization, Centre for Youth Integration. This centre has proven to be a unique and valuable service in supporting the protection needs of children transiting through Belgrade. Refugee and migrant children there engage in psychosocial and educational activities, are referred to appropriate services, share information and are provided a safe and warm space as they wait for registration and accommodation in one of Serbia’s reception centres.