A refugee family being arrested in Hungary in autumn 2015. In Hungary, refugees are sent back over the border on a regular basis, although this practice is illegal. Photo: Reuters / Bernadett Szabo

Various Central European organisations forming the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) recently published a report on the appalling reality at the EU’s eastern external borders, where time and again illegal pushbacks of asylum seekers are taking place.

The report “Pushed back at the door” descri­bes the rising num­ber of ille­gal push­backs at Europe’s exter­nal bor­ders in Bul­ga­ria, the Czech Repu­blic (at Pra­gue Air­port), Hun­ga­ry and Poland, also giving an over­view of worry­ing deve­lo­p­ments in Slo­ve­ni­an poli­ci­es and legislation.


Over the cour­se of 2016, the Bul­ga­ri­an Hel­sin­ki Com­mit­tee (BHC) recei­ved incre­a­sing num­bers of reports of vio­lent push­backs at the Bul­ga­ri­an-Tur­kish bor­der. The­se reports not only descri­be events at the bor­der its­elf, but also at the bor­de­ring regi­ons wit­hin Bulgaria.

Apart from the push­backs, the reports also talk of thefts (of money, valu­ables and even food) car­ri­ed out by the Bul­ga­ri­an poli­ce as well as poli­ce tac­tics of intimi­da­ti­on, such as firing warning shots and the deploy­ment of dogs.

The Czech Republic

The Czech Republic’s only EU-exter­nal bor­der is loca­ted in the tran­sit area of Pra­gue Air­port. While the law pro­vi­des for a kind of air­port pro­ce­du­re, in rea­li­ty asyl­um see­kers hard­ly have access – neit­her to the asyl­um pro­ce­du­re its­elf, nor to the accom­mo­da­ti­on pro­vi­ded at the air­port for this pur­po­se. In 2015 and 2016, a maxi­mum of two peop­le per mon­th were able to gain access to this pro­ce­du­re, while bet­ween 30 and 40 decisi­ons refu­sing ent­ry were issued each mon­th, among them for peop­le from coun­tries such as Sri Lan­ka, Iraq and the Demo­cra­tic Repu­blic of Congo.

The Orga­niz­a­ti­on for Aid to Refu­gees (OPU) has recei­ved many indi­ca­ti­ons that some of the­se peop­le had wan­ted to app­ly for asyl­um, and that in some cases even per­sons with valid ent­ry visas were rejec­ted and sent back.


Hun­ga­ry has erec­ted a fence along its bor­ders to Ser­bia and Croa­tia. The­re are two tran­sit zones (at Röszke and Tom­pa), whe­re bet­ween 20 and 30 asyl­um see­kers are allo­wed to enter the coun­try every day. Through a law pas­sed in the sum­mer of 2016, push­backs were all but lega­li­sed in Hun­ga­ry: Under this law, any per­son who is loca­ted at the bor­der or up to eight kilo­me­tres insi­de the coun­try can be taken back across the bor­der. In this way, 13,869 peop­le were refu­sed ent­ry bet­ween July 5th and Octo­ber 30th, 2016.

Addi­tio­nal­ly, the­re are nume­rous reports of mistre­at­ments of migrants and deploy­ments of dogs. Accord­ing to its own reports, the orga­ni­sa­ti­on Méde­cins sans Fron­tiè­res (MSF) Ser­bia tre­ats inju­ries to refu­gees and migrants cau­sed by the Hun­ga­ri­an bor­der for­ces on a dai­ly basis.


Accord­ing to Polish law, asyl­um app­li­ca­ti­ons made to bor­der for­ces have to be regis­tered and pas­sed on to the head of the for­eig­ners’ regis­tra­ti­on office wit­hin 48 hours. Over the past mon­ths the­re have been an incre­a­sing num­ber of reports accord­ing to which many peop­le were refu­sed ent­ry as well as the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make an asyl­um request. The­se reports con­cern the bor­der to Bela­rus (bor­der sta­ti­on Brest-Terespol).

It is main­ly asyl­um see­kers from Chech­nya who want to app­ly for asyl­um in the EU via Bela­rus. The bor­der for­ces have been deny­ing access to the pro­cee­dings at the bor­der to NGOs and the UNHCR. 72,372 peop­le were refu­sed ent­ry (among them 61,267 peop­le from Rus­sia) bet­ween Janu­a­ry and Sep­tem­ber 2016, while during the ent­i­re pre­vious year (2015) the num­ber of refu­sals was still only 17,376.


Slo­ve­nia does not have an EU-exter­nal bor­der. While the­re is no evi­dence of any sys­te­ma­tic push­backs, the­re are worry­ing poli­cy ten­den­ci­es: An amend­ment bill which would extend parliament’s powers – »if it beco­mes necessa­ry due to a thre­at to public order and secu­ri­ty cau­sed by migra­ti­on« – to shut the bor­ders, stop con­si­de­ring asyl­um app­li­ca­ti­ons and to push back asyl­um see­kers at the bor­ders is to be voted on as ear­ly as Janu­a­ry 2017.