Europe’s anti-torture monitor said Thursday that police and border guards in some countries use force, dogs and the humiliation of stripping migrants of their clothing to force them back across borders, and routinely strip people of their right to apply for international protection.
In an annual report for 2022, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture called on European governments to protect foreign nationals detained under immigration laws. It considers that some ill-treatment inflicted on migrants could amount to torture.
“We came across individuals who were beaten by police at the time of their arrest,” CPT President Alan Mitchell told reporters in Brussels as he unveiled the report. The Council of Europe is the continent’s main human rights watchdog. It is not part of the European Union.
“We have met people who have been stripped naked and forced to cross country borders. We met with people who have shown evidence of recent dog bites; Dogs were let loose on them to encourage their deportation across the border,” he said.
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Mitchell declined to name countries suspected of abuse, but CPT teams made scheduled trips to Croatia, Italy, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and San Marino over the past year, as well as other visits to “investigate specific problems ” in Azerbaijan, Belgium, Great Britain, Cyprus, Greece, Montenegro, Moldova, Romania and Turkey.
The committee also called on the 46 member countries of the Council of Europe to end pushbacks at land or sea borders, particularly at EU borders.
Pushbacks are illegal under international refugee treaties. They involve the act of preventing people from exercising their right to apply for international protection – when they fear for their lives or that they may be persecuted – often through the use of force or collective expulsions.
Greece and even the EU border and coast guard Frontex are among those accused of pushbacks or complicity. They have denied the use of such methods.
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“Pushbacks are a reality in Europe at the moment. Violent pushbacks are a reality and as such, in a number of cases, migrants are at real risk of violating their fundamental rights,” Mitchell said. Some abuses related to their use “could be described as torture,” he added.
Mitchell said the CPT is concerned that some people “are not being offered adequate opportunities to seek international protection or asylum, and in some cases face a real risk of being pushed back into countries” they are leaving or through they have traveled and where they have gone could face persecution.
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Human rights group Amnesty International welcomed the report with the head of its Europe office, Eve Geddie, saying it “adds to the growing body of evidence of gross and systemic human rights abuses committed by the authorities of European states against people at the borders become”.
“It confirms what thousands of people have said who have experienced violence at Europe’s land and sea borders,” Geddie said. She said the findings are consistent with much of Amnesty’s own research, including recently in Spain, Croatia, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
Earlier this week, an investigator hired by the United Nations expressed concern about rights violations and other crimes against migrants in Libya. The investigator accused the EU of helping to commit these crimes by providing funds, equipment and other support.
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