Is Serbia starting to treat migrants as violently as Hungary?

The British newspaper, The Guardian, recently published a video which appears to show groups of men stripped of their clothing in near-freezing temperatures and being forced back from Serbia into North Macedonia are evidence of escalating mistreatment of migrants at European borders, according to human rights groups.

Two videos shown to the Guardian by Legis, a North Macedonian NGO, show a line of semi-naked men on a stretch of road near the Serbian-North Macedonian border.

Legis says that the videos were filmed by a local person near the village of Lojane, close to the Serbian border, and handed to them on 10 February. The Guardian has not independently verified the videos.

The NGO claims the incident was the second of two abusive and “degrading” pushbacks over a 24-hour period, when it claims more than 50 people were forced to strip naked or down to their underwear by the Serbian authorities before being forced back into North Macedonia.

Serbian Interior Ministry strongly denied such allegations, saying that “the Serbian police acted in accordance with legal regulations and respecting the principles of humanity”. The Ministry also underlined that at the time when the video was filmed, there were no Serbian police patrols in the said area and that the Serbian Border does not use patrol dogs. The police add that there is no proof that the mistreatment of migrants took place on the territory of the Republic of Serbia.

The executive director of the Center for Protection and Assistance to Asylum Seekers, Radoš Đurović, states that the incident raises concern that Serbia might be emulating Hungary in its treatment of refugees.

Đurović explains that it is very difficult for refugees to enter the asylum procedure in Serbia, as they face a lot of obstacles. Access to legal aid is significantly limited for migrants and their position is particularly sensitive.

“On the other hand, the largest number of migrants just passes through the country and the smuggling still takes place, especially in the direction of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The migrant reception centres in the north of Serbia are closed and only one centre is open for unaccompanied minors”, says Đurović.

Lawyer Nikola Kovačević says that from 2016 to date, the attitude of the Serbian police towards migrants involves resorting to extralegal procedures such as the collective expulsion of migrants.

„This is not new and the only thing that is unusual here is that violence was used. It doesn’t happen often that migrants have visible injuries, are beaten and stripped olr that dogs are let loose on them. They are usually just deterred from the border. This time the violence was quite intense, which is why it attracted the attention of humanitarian workers in Macedonia and therefore the media. After the European Union adopts the Asylum and Migration Pact, I am afraid that such practices will become common,” says Kovačević.

(Danas, 26.02.2024)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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