The cross : Migrants detained on the ground amid rubbish in a makeshift prison, trapped in the greatest precariousness between a red brick wall and iron bars… These images taken on European soil, on the border between Bulgaria and Turkey, are they unprecedented on the continent?
Elena Bizzi : They are obviously shocking. Beyond the confinement as such, which is debatable in our view, it is obvious that the minimum guarantees are not met here for a dignified treatment of people. I must unfortunately say that this degrading place makes me think of others that have already existed in the past, in the “hot spots” (1) in Greece or Italy.
In recent months, however, our contacts on the ground have brought us worrying signs from Bulgaria. In our network, Center for Legal Aid–Voice in Bulgaria reported more than 150 cases of unlawful refoulement between January and July 2022. Most of this goes through a stage of arbitrary detentions. The actions of the police are of particular concern to us. On December 5, the broadcast of images captured by the smartphone of a young 19-year-old Syrian testifies to a gunshot by Bulgarian border guards, while he was trying to cross the border. .
The European border guard agency, Frontex, has announced that it will investigate this case of alleged arbitrary detention. Is this good news?
E. B : I cannot say whether in this specific case, as Lighthouse Reports asserts, the detention took place under the eyes of the European border guards. What I can say is that the Frontex agency is not beyond reproach. There is already evidence of violations of migrants’ rights by this agency elsewhere, with illegal pushbacks carried out in cooperation with national authorities in Greece or in Maltese waters to Libya. The agency is putting forward efforts to reform itself. It is true that it began to hire fundamental rights officers, to guarantee respect for the law and to report serious incidents. But, for the moment, we have not yet seen the results.
Of course, it is the Member States, here the Bulgarian border guards, who have the authority, and therefore the responsibility, for the treatment of migrants on their territory. However, we note that this kind of drift anticipates in the worst way the “pact on migration and asylum” defended by the Commission since 2020. The latter provides for the increase in the possible duration of detention and accelerated procedures of distance. In this system, Frontex must play a major role.
Does this mean that the European Union could see this type of situation multiply?
E. B. : Member States are already in the process of implementing the hardening provided for in the pact on migration and asylum, on the model of what has already been done in the Greek islands. The Twenty-Seven plan to cooperate with third countries such as Egypt or Libya, known for their systematic violations of fundamental rights. And this policy emerges reinforced from a meeting of interior ministers of the European Union (EU), in Brussels on Friday November 25, in response to the controversy over the Ocean Viking, a rescue ship that Italy refused. to welcome.
In the years to come, the confinement of migrants at European borders risks becoming the norm, with consequences that must be carefully assessed. Last September we published an impact study to measure, using European statistics, what the implementation of the pact on migration and asylum would have entailed if it had been adopted two years, when presented. In Spain, the number of places of detention should have been multiplied by five or eight, depending on the scenario. For Italy, the places of confinement should have been multiplied by 11.