The European Parliament issued a resolution on the human rights situation in Egypt on 18 December 2020, which is International Migrants Day. Ironically, the resolution coincided with the presentation of The Black Book of Pushbacks, compiled by the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), which includes dozens of non-governmental organisations and associations.
The 1500-page Black Book documents the horrific violence suffered by over 12,500 people at the hands of authorities on the EU’s external borders, and the grave violations of migrants' rights in EU countries taking place since 2017 in conjunction with the tragedy of refugees and migrants who escaped conflict zones, searching for refuge that may provide them with the minimum level of protection, only to find themselves falling prey to these violations, practiced and hidden from the eyes of media and observers by EU countries.
International human rights organisations have overlooked these violations, considering migrants not worthy of the hype. Moreover, discussing the situation of migrants might bring certain questions to the limelight such as, who caused their exodus from their countries, what are their motives to seek refuge, and what is the political horizon of the crises of their countries? All these aspects of the crisis will be like destructive flames in EU countries if anyone searches for real, honest answers to them.
The BVMN is an independent network of NGOs and associations, based mainly in the Balkan regions and in Greece, that monitors human rights violations at the external borders of the EU and advocates halting violence against people moving in and between EU countries.
Since it was founded in 2016, BVMN became aware of the existence of violent pushbacks of asylum seekers along the Balkans and Greece and began to document such cases. The network has developed a common framework for documenting testimonies and evidence of violations which, after going through a process of fact-checking, are published on the BVMN website. These case reports include hard facts, pictures of the injuries, and medical documents that provide evidence, as well as detailed descriptions of the incidences.
BVMN publishes monthly reports covering pushbacks along the Greek and Balkan route. Every report analyses in detail pushbacks in specific geographical areas, escalation of violence, excessive use of force, cases of alleged torture, and other key issues.
The testimonies and reports serve as a basis for the network’s advocacy effort at the European level, where BVMN has been engaging in the past years in meetings with European parliamentarians, in order to denounce the violations of human rights at borders and promote a better management of migration flows.
The Black Book is not the first of its kind in this context. It was preceded by dozens of reports and testimonies on the same subject. However, its shocking title prompted members of parliament to take note of this huge number of documents and testimonies.
German MEP Cornelia Ernst said the legislators had been “very shocked by the endless accounts of merciless, sadistic, and degrading violence that are reminiscent of brutal dictatorships.” She noted that the Black Book “sheds some much-needed light on this dark chapter of the EU,” adding that “our hope is that it will contribute to bringing an end to the crimes, and to holding accountable the governments that are responsible.”
The report’s authors, Hope Barker and Milena Zajovic, explained that the pushbacks covered by the network were just part of a much broader, systematic phenomenon that is still denied and often neglected by the European Border Monitoring Agency, FRONTEX.
The report also relied on and documented about 900 audio and video testimonies of people who had been beaten, robbed, or had their personal belongings damaged, and were attacked by dogs on the EU border.
It also denounces the use of tasers against migrants, the practice of forcing asylum-seekers to undress, and detaining people in structures that lack the most basic amenities, in a pattern that recalls the images of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq at the time of the US invasion.
The Black Book was handed over by the BVMN to Ylva Johansson, the European commissioner for home affairs — on Friday, setting out accusations to EU member states such as Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Greece, and Croatia, as well as other Balkan countries not members of the European Union, such as Serbia and Bosnia.
The report contains a wealth of evidence of violations. It analyses in detail the way in which atrocities have been carried out. In addition, it calls for ending impunity and renewing commitment to accountability, especially since the authorities of EU member states have long ignored such human rights violations that are inconsistent with the founding principles of the EU and related international obligations.
Compiled by BVMN and printed over two volumes, and available on the BVMN website, the ‘Black Book of Pushbacks’ is a collection of hundreds of testimonies of migrants that were recorded directly by BVMN.
Despite the fact that the Black Book includes 892 group testimonies detailing the experiences of 12,654 people, including maps, data, photos and other key information, the BVMN believes the actual number of victims to be much higher.
The Black Book also includes the types of suffering and violence perpetrated by border agents, member state police forces, soldiers – and even guard dogs. Many of the incidents documented could be clearly described as sadistic, merciless, humiliating, and degrading. The question now is how serious the European side will be regarding human rights issues of non-Europeans in tandem with all these violations and corruption.
*The writer is the General Director of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies ECSS