BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s executive called for an investigation on Thursday into illegal migrant pushbacks after a report by German media outlets Der Spiegel and ARD documented what they said were Greek and Croatian officials carrying out such operations.
The report said Greek and Croatian special forces sometimes concealed their identity during such operations.
The report said it had video footage of 11 pushbacks by Croatian police into Bosnia and also evidence including footage of the Greek coast guard forcing migrants back into the Aegean Sea.
Reuters has not independently verified the allegations.
A spokesman for the executive European Commission said an investigation was needed.
“The Commission strongly opposes any pushback practices, and has repeatedly emphasised that any such practices are illegal, and the national authorities have the responsibility to investigate any allegations, with a view to establishing the facts and to properly follow up on any wrongdoing,” he said.
Responding to the German media report, Croatia’s Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said the police would conduct an investigation. He added that Croatian border police acted in line with the law and did not tolerate any abuse of authority.
The Greek migration ministry said it would put out a press statement soon on the matter.
Under international humanitarian law, people have a right to claim asylum and it is forbidden to send potential asylum-seekers back to where their lives or well-being might be in danger.
But these principles have often been ignored in Europe in recent years amid a massive influx of illegal migrants, many fleeing conflicts or poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Authorities in frontline states such as Greece and Croatia have struggled to process the sheer volume of individual asylum requests and have sometimes sought ways to send the migrants back, amid strong domestic opposition to taking in any more.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Additional reporting by Marine Strauss, Philip Blenkinsop, Athens Newsroom and Igor Ilic in Zagreb; Editing by Gareth Jones)