In first three months of the year 1,453 refugees and migrants travelling through Western Balkans Route testified about 1,521 cases of irregular push backs at various borders in the region to Save the Children and its partner organization Praxis. Every fourth person who was reportedly returned from the countries along the route without being given an opportunity to seek asylum was a child (352 children).
More than one third of refugees and migrants who reported irregular push backs in the period January-March 2019 (525 persons) testified about border guards using excessive force, pushing and beating people with hands and batons, forcing them to remove their clothes and footwear, using dogs to scare, chase or bite adults and minors. Every fourth person involved in a violent push back was a child - 124 children reportedly experienced violence at the borders, out of which 102 were children travelling alone.
Amongst refugees and migrants who testified about violence was a family from Iran with a 5-year-old boy, who was pushed back from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina and returned to Serbia after spending a month in an overcrowded refugee centre in Bosnia. The family told the team in Serbia about border guards intercepting their group, beating people without asking where they were from or if they wanted to seek asylum. Another two families testified about spending a night in a Croatian prison, sleeping with children on the floor and without getting any food. They were expelled to Bosnia in the morning. Three families testified about Romanian police beating them and pushing them back to Serbia. One family spoke about a policeman grabbing a 2-year-old child from his mother’s arms and throwing the boy on the ground.
Many minors travelling alone testified about being severely beaten by police in Bulgaria, Greece, North Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Three boys from Afghanistan shared with the team that before arriving in Belgrade they received beatings by older migrants from their group, by a truck driver who discovered them in the back of his truck, and by the Serbian police. One of the boys was referred to a doctor with signs of concussion. A minor from Afghanistan reported that he reached Slovenia, from where he was pushed back to Croatia, and then to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In many cases, children and adults reported that police and border guards take away their money and mobile phones.
In 2018, Praxis collected 6,749 reports on irregular push backs from 6,072 refugees and migrants while doing outreach work and protection monitoring in Serbian capital Belgrade. As seen during the first three months of 2019, every fourth person who was reportedly denied access to territory and asylum in the countries along the route was a child – the testimonies were collected about 1,487 children being involved in push backs, out of which 1,034 were unaccompanied and separated children. Almost half of the refugees and migrants supported by Praxis last year, 2,379 persons, reported excessive use of force by police and border guards, while the violence at the borders was reported by 560 children, out of which 477 were children travelling alone.
Save the Children and Praxis work since 2016 to support refugees and migrants arriving in Serbia, providing information, support with registration, referrals to needed services, while collecting data about arrivals and monitoring trends in mixed migrations in Western Balkans route. Based on the data collected by outreach teams, Save the Children and Praxis issue reports, research papers and advocacy and media briefings calling for better protection and support for refugee and migrant children who continue to travel through Western Balkans Route.