Amnesty International said last week (7 July) that Balkan countries were mistreating migrants who were fleeing war through their territories on the way to the European Union. The human rights advocacy alleged that “thousands of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants – including children – making dangerous journeys across the Balkans are suffering violent abuse and extortion at the hands of the authorities and criminal gangs”. Amnesty International further commented that refugees were being “shamefully let down” by a poor EU asylum and migration system which leaves migrants trapped without legal protection in Balkan countries.
The number of migrants trying to get to Europe through the Balkans has soared in recent years. Most migrants come from Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Somalia or Sudan. According to data of Amnesty International, the number of people crossing the Serbia-Hungary border has gone up by more than 2,500 percent since 2010. The standard route of most refugees takes them from Turkey to Greece and then across Macedonia or Serbia to Hungary.
Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, said that Serbia and Macedonia had become “a sink for the overflow of refugees and migrants that nobody in the EU seems willing to receive”. Amnesty’s study was conducted between July 2014 and March 2015 on the sample of 100 refugees and migrants. Many of them had been made bribe police when entering the Balkan countries, with up to 100 euro per bribe. In June, Serbian police arrested nine customs officials and 29 police offers suspected of abuse of power and corruption. Some refugees reported that they had been beaten by Serbian police and some were financially exploited by criminals or smugglers. Amnesty says that successful asylum applications are very scarce in both Macedonia and Serbia.