Jan 28, 2021 09:26 UTC
  • UNHCR calls on European states to end refugee pushbacks at borders

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed alarm over the increasingly frequent repulsion and expulsion of refugees at Europe’s borders, urging European countries to halt these practices and protect the right to seek asylum.

“UNHCR has received a continuous stream of reports of some European states restricting access to asylum, returning people after they have reached territory or territorial waters, and using violence against them at borders,” UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs said on Thursday.

“The pushbacks are carried out in a violent and apparently systematic way. Boats carrying refugees are being towed back. People are being rounded up after they land and then pushed back to sea. Many have reported violence and abuse by state forces,” she added.

Triggs further said people arriving by land have been informally detained and forcibly returned to neighboring countries “without any consideration of their international protection needs.”

She pointed out that the 1951 Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights and European Union law, requires states to protect people's right to seek asylum as well as refoulement, even if they enter a country illegally.

Authorities cannot automatically deny entry to or return people without undertaking an individual assessment of those in need of protection, she stressed.   

“Respecting human lives and refugee rights is not a choice, it’s a legal and moral obligation,” Triggs said.

“While countries have the legitimate right to manage their borders in accordance with international law, they must also respect human rights. Pushbacks are simply illegal,” she added.

The UNHCR further called on countries to create national independent monitoring mechanisms to ensure access to asylum and to prevent rights violations, warning that the very idea of asylum is under attack at Europe’s borders.

The UN agency also said it had made its concerns clear to European countries and had called for "urgent inquiries into alleged violations and mistreatment.”