Rights group Amnesty International has accused the European Union of abandoning migrants trying to access member countries through the Balkans, where it says they face abuse and exploitation.
In a report published on Tuesday, Amnesty said criminal gangs and officials were taking advantage of people trying to claim asylum in, or migrate to the 28-member bloc, because of the EU’s “failing” system for handling their cases.
“Refugees fleeing war and persecution make this journey across the Balkans in the hope of finding safety in Europe only to find themselves victims of abuse and exploitation,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s deputy director for Europe and Central Asia.
The rights group’s study focused on Serbia, Hungary, Greece, and Macedonia, with researchers interviewing more than 100 refugees and migrants, who were making the journey across the Balkans.
Though considered less deadly than the Mediterranean, crossing from Turkey to the Balkans and Greece still poses risks, with 123 refugees drowning during the attempt since the start of 2014, according to Amnesty. A further 24 were killed on railways.
Refugees Amnesty spoke to said that while in Serbia and Macedonia they routinely had to pay bribes to police officers at border crossings to get through.
One refugee said he saw Macedonian police beating men and children, including his 13-year-old son.
Hungary, an EU member, has detained more than 60,000 people trying to cross in to its territory. An increase of 2,500 percent since 2010. The country’s Prime Minister has mulled deporting refugees immediately back to where they arrived from, and building a fence along its border with Serbia to keep others out.
“Serbia and Macedonia have to do much more to respect migrants and refugees’ rights. But it is impossible to separate the human rights violations there, from the broader pressures of the flow of migrants…and a failed EU migration system,” said van Gulik.
“Serbia and Macedonia have become a sink for the overflow of refugees and migrants that nobody in the EU seems willing to receive.”
More than 21,000 refugees made the journey across the Balkans in 2014, more than half from Syria.