Reports about push backs and violence against children at the Western Balkans borders: July - September 2019

Wednesday 11 December 2019

More than one third of refugee and migrant children encountered in Serbian capital Belgrade in period July – September 2019 reported about being pushed back from some border during their journey through Balkans route. Almost half of these children testified about experiencing violence or witnessing violence during expulsion.

The number of reports of violent push backs increased in comparison to the first half of the year, when around one third of push backs involving children were reportedly violent.

The testimonies about push backs were collected during the third quarter of 2019 by the outreach teams run by Save the Children’s partner organization Praxis. The outreach teams encountered 1,127 refugee and migrant children in Belgrade, including children traveling alone as well as those accompanied by their family members[1]. 396 children (35% ) reported being involved in a push back. Since one person often testifies to several push backs from one or several borders, the number of reported cases is higher and amounts to 435.

Unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) made two thirds (65%) of all children encountered by the outreach teams during the second quarter of 2019. Almost all reported violent push backs came from UASC (90%) and almost all reports were made by boys (95%).

When it comes to violent pushbacks, 96% of cases[2] were reported by unaccompanied minors.

Children travelling with families reported being involved in smaller number of pushbacks, out of which 19% were involving violence.

According to the testimonies, girls were involved in 37% of reported push backs.


Examples of stories heard from the children

Family from Iraq with five children reported being forcefully returned from Croatia to Bosnia by border officials who beat them and took away their money and phones.

Three minors from Afghanistan testified about being intercepted at the border between Greece and North Macedonia by border officers speaking German. The officer reportedly returned boys to Greece using violence, beating them with sticks and breaking their phones.

A minor from Afghanistan travelling with his adult cousin spoke about Bulgarian border officers returning them to Greece, while using dogs that had attacked and hurt the caregiver. He also testified about being returned violently five times from North Macedonia to Greece, and also being pushed back from Hungary to Serbia by the officers who used sticks and hands to beat them.

A family from Iraq with three children (2, 6 and 7 years old) testified about being returned three times from Serbian border to North Macedonia, despite telling Serbian border officials that the 6-year-old girl suffered from brain inflammation.

Five minors from Afghanistan testified about Hungarian border guards apprehending the youngest one amongst them, a 14-year-old, who they threw to the ground and severely kicked and punched before forcing him to return across the wired fence to Serbia.

Two minors from Afghanistan reported reaching Austria, where they were apprehended and returned to Hungary without being offered the chance to seek asylum, after which the Hungarian police returned them to Serbia using violence.


Most of the children reporting pushbacks came from Afghanistan (85%), followed by children from Iraq (5%) and Pakistan (4%). This is not surprising since Afghan children were the most numerous population of minors transiting through Serbia and they made 57% of all new child arrivals in the third quarter of 2019.

Although older teenagers make the largest portion of children experiencing and reporting push backs, 15% of all push backs and 8% of all violent push backs were reported by children who are 13 years old or younger.

Most of the child push backs (99) were reported to have occurred at the Croatian border, followed by North Macedonia (88), Bulgaria (55), Serbia (47), Greece (41), Hungary (36) and Romania (36). The frequency of reported violence during push backs is the highest at the Bulgarian borders where73% push backs were reportedly violent, followed by51% push backs registered at Greek and Serbian borders, 47% at Romanian and 45% at North Macedonian borders.

Save the Children and Praxis has been working in Serbia since 2016 to support refugees and migrants, 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 the Western Balkans route.


[1] All figures used in this text refer to testimonies of our outreach team beneficiaries. Although they are not fully representative of all refugees and migrants transiting through Serbia, they are very useful and illustrative when it comes to structure of population being pushed back.

[2]In further text all references will be made to total number of pushback cases unless specified differently.