Libyan coast guards intercepted a boat carrying 108 Europe-bound migrants and returned them to Tripoli in April | Photo: Picture alliance/dpa/XinHua | Hamza Turkia
Libyan coast guards intercepted a boat carrying 108 Europe-bound migrants and returned them to Tripoli in April | Photo: Picture alliance/dpa/XinHua | Hamza Turkia

In an article published on Wednesday, the British newspaper revealed that at least 40,000 people seeking asylum in the European Union have been pushed back illegally. These operations have led to the deaths of more than 2,000 people.

The Guardian newspaper reported that "EU member states have used illegal operations to push back at least 40,000 asylum seekers from Europe's borders during the pandemic." The deaths of more than 2,000 people are being linked to these practices.

According to the newspaper, the EU’s border agency Frontex has systematically pushed back thousands of refugees, including minors, using illegal tactics. It has also engaged in violence and inhumane treatment during detention or transportation.

The Guardian's analysis is based on reports released by UN agencies, along with a database of incidents collected by non-governmental organizations.

The European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF) has launched an investigation into Frontex, over allegations of harassment, misconduct and unlawful operations aimed at preventing asylum seekers from reaching EU countries.

The investigation is a response to a report published by German magazine Der Spiegel, which accused the agency of being complicit in and aware of pushbacks at the EU's external borders.

Increasing brutality

The number of migrants arriving in Europe by land or sea has significantly decreased in the past few years. In 2020 the figure dropped to 100,000 from nearly 130,000 in 2019 and 190,000 in 2017.

Despite the drop in numbers, several member states, including Italy, Malta, Greece, Croatia and Spain have continued to carry out hardline ant-migration practices since January last year.

In the wake of the pandemic the prevalence of pushback practices has increased, with border closures aimed to halt the spread of the coronavirus having a further devastating effect.

According to the annual report released by the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) on Tuesday (May 4) revealed that violence and physical abuse was recorded in 90% of cases relating to illegal returns at the border between Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia. The data collected also illustrates a 19% increase in these abuses in 2020 compared to 2019.

Legal action against Greece

In October 2020, NGO's called for an investigation after claims that Greek patrol boats towed migrants back to Turkish waters and abandoned them at sea without food, water, lifejackets or any means to call for help. The Greek migration minister has denied these claims calling them "fake news". 

In April, the NGO Legal Centre Lesvos filed a lawsuit against the Greek state before the European court of human rights for its role in illegal pushbacks at sea.

Intercepted at sea

In the Central Mediterranean, migrants headed to Europe from Libya are repeatedtly intercepted by coast guards and returned to the North African country. According to data from the United Nations Refugee Agency, cited by The Guardian, around 15,500 asylum seekers have been intercepted at sea and brought back to Tripoli by Libyan coast guards operating with EU support.

Italy and Libya have been critcized for turning a blind eye to the tragedies unfolding in the Mediterranean and failing in their duty to rescue boats in distress. Last month the two countries ignored calls for help from a boat in distress, 130 people died in the tragedy.


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