Illegal pushbacks at Europe's external borders up by a third

The number of illegal pushbacks at Europe's external borders rose by a third last year to 346,004. They have become standard policy and result in deaths, the Belgian NGO 11.11.11 said in a new report.

Pushbacks, in which asylum seekers are forcibly turned back, are illegal under European and international law. Yet they happen an average of 947 times a day. 

Last year, 11.11.11 counted 225,533 pushbacks in 2022. The figure for 2023 is "an unprecedented explosion of violence and possibly a record number", said the umbrella organisation for international solidarity. Hundreds of people died as a result of illegal pushbacks in 2023.

Tip of the iceberg

Bulgaria tops the list. In October, the Bulgarian border police reported the "prevention" of 170,000 "illegal" border crossings on the Bulgarian-Turkish border, but local aid organisations say the majority of these involved people who were already on Bulgarian territory.

Pushbacks are often violent. The research platform Lighthouse Reports documented how migrants were sometimes held for days in a "cage-like" old dog kennel near a Bulgarian police station 40 km from the border. Migrants testified that they were not given food or water.

Hungary recorded 98,687 pushbacks in 2023. In addition, pushbacks took place mainly in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey, in Poland at the border with Belarus and at the border with Ukraine. More than 17,000 people were also intercepted at sea between Libya and Italy. The NGO said this was just the tip of the iceberg, as most pushbacks go unnoticed. 

Pushing aside basic human rights

"Violence at the external borders is still met with silence in Western European countries," 11.11.11 said.

"The recently agreed EU pact on asylum and migration never mentions this illegal, permanent part of European migration policy," said 11.11.11 director Els Hertogen. "In fact, we see more and more member states pushing aside basic human rights and passing national laws to supposedly legalise pushbacks."

11.11.11 calls on Belgium, as president of the European Council, to take urgent and decisive action. The organisation is calling for an end to the financing of pushbacks with European taxpayers' money, the withdrawal of support for the border agency Frontex, and the opening of infringement procedures if member states systematically refuse to comply with the rules.


Refugees behind a barred window at the Bulgarian shelter for clandestine migrants near Lyubimets © AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF

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