Human rights organisations operating in Northern Serbia have issued a report documenting the violent conditions faced by people attempting to cross the border into the European Union (EU). The report highlights the impact of border violence and domestic violence on the psychological and emotional wellbeing of individuals.
NGOs including Medical Volunteers International, Collective Aid, and Construct Solidarity collaborated on the report, which uses a methodology combining border violence testimony collection, medical conversations, joint organisational observations, and secondary resources such as Serbian and European government databases.
Human rights violations and inadequate living conditions
The report reveals a direct correlation between increased police presence and human rights violations. Pushback methods employed at the border include physical violence, theft of personal possessions, dog bites, and hospital pushbacks. The report also documents an increase in evictions of informal settlements and increased surveillance of these settlements by police authorities.
The report also highlights the inadequate living conditions in official camps in Subotica and Sombor, which are at maximum capacity. According to the Collective Aid team on-site, around 100 people are staying in the camps without registered Camp IDs, access to a bed, food, or medical care. The sanitation facilities were found to be “filthy” and showed “a clear sign that there was no regular cleaning”. Doctors rarely visit the camps, and beneficiaries are expected to get their own prescriptions, even if they express anxiety about going into town due to fear of police intimidation.
A “demonization of people on the move”
As described in the report, this mistreatment of people by border authorities has meant that violence has been normalised. In addition, local residents are being encouraged to contact the police if they see people on the move and barriers are placed in the way of access to shops to buy food. It amounts, as the report says, to a “demonization of people on the move”.
Matters have been made worse by pressures brought to bear by the EU. In an effort to “appease” the EU, Serbia, a prospective membership candidate, has been obliged to impose visa requirements on people previously travelling freely from countries such as Tunisia, India and Guinea-Bissau and potentially using Serbia as an entry point into the EU. The report claims that this “political collaboration in systematic mistreatment, violence and criminalisation” will only make matters worse for people on the move.
NGOs taking responsibility but say Europe must act
Dalia Impiglia, communications coordinator for Collective Aid, said:
“The EU’s external borders are becoming one of the most violent areas for people on the move. The lack of safeguarding provided for people on the move makes it the responsibility of NGOs in the area to ensure people are provided with sanitation, food, and shelter.”
Medical Volunteers International has been working in Northern Serbia since March 2022, providing health education to people on the move and helping with their medical needs. Collective Aid has been providing vital material aid and hygiene solutions to people seeking safety in Europe since 2019. Construct Solidarity aims to improve the living conditions in informal settlements.
But this is clearly not an issue that should be left to NGOs. As Paula Llopis, communications co-coordinator for Europe Must Act, said, “the situation in Northern Serbia directly contradicts the EU’s human rights laws. Europe needs to start working on the protection of human rights”.
As the number of people attempting to cross into the EU remains high, the NGOs urge the EU to take action and provide collective aid to refugees and displaced people across Europe. The protection of human rights by the EU at its borders must be seen as a priority.