Rohingya child challenges Croatia and Slovenia over violent pushbacks

Unaccompanied minor files complaints at UN Child Rights Committee

Croatia/Slovenia – Pushbacks – Minors

A Rohingya child refugee faced repeated beatings by Croatian border officers, had his belongings burnt and his shoes confiscated before numerous forced expulsions, including a “chain” pushback from Slovenia. U.F. submitted complaints against Croatia and Slovenia at the UN Child Rights Committee for multiple violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). These are the first complaints of their kind against these two states. 

Case

U.F. was 8 years old when he fled a military attack on his village and became separated from his family. After many years searching for protection, he spent over a year in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) from 2020 to 2021 having to survive without state support or medical care, sleeping rough in forests and squatting in abandoned buildings. During this time, he was pushed back five times from Croatia to BiH and subjected to consistent, choreographed violence. In Slovenia he was subjected to a “chain” pushback, by which he was forcibly returned first to Croatia by Slovenian authorities and then onwards by Croatian authorities to BiH in a coordinated operation.

National, EU, and international law oblige Croatia and Slovenia to act in a child’s best interests and prioritize the identification of their age during their handling by border officers. The applicant’s complaints argue violations of the CRC, in relation to his expulsions and ill-treatment, and states’ failure to assess his age or apply any of the relevant safeguards under articles 3, 8, 20(1), and 37 CRC. U.F. corroborated his accounts with a range of digital evidence. The complaints were filed against Croatia and Slovenia with the support of ECCHR and Blindspots. The litigation forms part of the Advancing Child Rights Strategic Litigation project (ACRiSL). ACRiSL comes under the auspices of the Global Campus of Human Rights – Right Livelihood cooperation.

Context

In Croatia, pushbacks form part of a designed and systematic state policy, which has been fully documented by human rights institutions, NGOs and the media. Slovenia’s pushbacks have been implemented since 2018 through a readmission agreement which authorizes hasty expulsions with complete disregard for a person’s protection needs, a child’s identity or their best interests. In 2020 and 2021 alone, 13.700 people were pushed back from Slovenia in this manner. 

The applicant is represented by ECCHR partner lawyer, Carsten Gericke. These complaints are the latest in a series of legal steps to address systematic human rights violation at the EU’s external borders. 

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Definition

UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has since 1991 monitored states’ compliance with the provisions set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The third Optional Protocol to that convention established a procedure allowing individual complaints to be brought to the committee.

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Insight

Pushbacks

Kilometers of barbed wire exclusion fences, thousands of high-tech patrols at sea, in the air and on land, pushback agreements with neighboring countries: the European Union goes to great lengths to exclude people fleeing from war, persecution and hardship in their home countries. To justify their actions leaders in Brussels and the EU member states claim the pushbacks are politically necessary and permitted under law.

Every other week another boat carrying migrants and refugees capsizes or sinks off the coast of Italy or Malta. Witnesses frequently report instances of abuse at the borders between Turkey and Greece. There is a steady climb in the number of people who lose their lives while trying to cross the Moroccan-Spanish border. All of these events serve as evidence of the terrible failure of the EU’s asylum and refugee policies.

Illegal pushbacks or forced returns at EU borders represent a flagrant violation of fundamental human rights and refugee laws. In the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern coast of Africa, refugees and migrants are repeatedly subjected to brutal violence from border guards. Anyone attempting to enter these Spanish cities – and thereby reach EU territory – is immediately deported to Morocco without any examination of their right to asylum.

Since 2014, ECCHR has been examining the scope for legal intervention against the practice of pushbacks in the EU and has been helping affected persons with individual legal proceedings.

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