Activists warn of increase in illegal deportations and police violence
The EU Commission still maintains that it does not want to finance fences at the Union’s external borders – at least not directly. However, the 12 member states that already have such barriers can hope for support from Brussels for their technical upgrading and surveillance. This applies in particular to those states bordering the Western Balkans, such as Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as to Turkey.
In a speech to the European Parliament last week, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen confirmed the readiness for technical migration defence. „The most pressing issues right now“ are at the land border between Bulgaria and Turkey, she said. There, the EU could „provide infrastructure and equipment, like drones, radar and other means of surveillance“. The Commission President describes this as „sustainable solutions in the area of asylum and migration“.
This puts von der Leyen in line with the governments of eight EU states, which this week demanded more money from Brussels for „relevant operational and technical measures for effective border control“ in an open letter. The signatories include Greece, Austria, Malta and Denmark.
A day after von der Leyen’s speech, the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) published a study showing how the use of new technologies already encourages illegal deportations and police violence along the EU’s external borders.
The focus of the network and thus also of the report now presented is on the Western Balkans, Greece and Turkey. Since 2017, the BVMN has recorded 36 testimonies describing the use of drones to locate, detain and deport migrants and asylum seekers. More than 1000 people are said to have been affected by this.
„The idea that these practices could be expanded and legitimised from the very top of the EU Commission is a deep cause for concern and again shows a lack of political will to address the systematic and ongoing human rights violations at European borders,“ says BVMN activist Hope Barker to „nd“.
The EU’s external borders in the Western Balkans have long since been upgraded with other surveillance technologies. These include cameras, thermal imaging sensors, night vision devices, mobile phone detection technology, tracking devices and surveillance towers. In Greece, for example, the EU is funding various research projects on the use of drones in the air, on water and on land. In Bulgaria and Greece, the Commission has had a digital „defoliation“ project tested in forests along the border. Countries like Austria are also sending teams with drones to states along the so-called „Balkan route“.
The BVMN study was prepared for the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. It had previously called for contributions on the use of new technologies. The BVMN also refers to illegal returns as „systematic disappearances at external borders“ or „enforced disappearances“. People are often left behind in disputed border regions such as the Evros Islands between Greece and Turkey, explains activist Barker. The network has also documented cases of people drowning in the sea or in border rivers as a result of pushbacks, or ending up as victims of human trafficking.
According to the paper, police technologies can also help to uncover human rights violations. Body cameras, for example, could serve as a means of collecting evidence of enforced disappearances. This is because the testimonies collected by BVMN often contained evidence of the involvement of police or military personnel.
In their conclusions, the authors of the study warn of the growing importance of biometric identification systems used for automated tracking of migrants. Currently, only asylum seekers and visa applicants are stored in such systems. This year, the EU wants to extend this collection to all third-country nationals. All travellers will then have to hand over their facial image and four fingerprints at the external borders.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: Slovenian border fence at the river Kolpa in Griblje (Hythlodot, CC BY-SA 4.0).
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