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Serbia: children & young people repeatedly abused by EU member state border authorities

03 Oct 2017

"For the children and young people trying to leave Serbia today violence is a constant and the overwhelming majority is perpetrated by EU Member State border police,” said Stephane Moissaing, Médecins Sans Frontières' Head of Mission in Serbia. “For more than a year our doctors and nurses have continued to hear the same, repetitive story of young people being beaten, humiliated and attacked with dogs for desperately trying to continue their journeys.” 

With no other legal or safe ways for people to seek asylum or migrate towards the European Union, men, women and children are forced in the hands of smugglers and onto dangerous, clandestine journeys where they are subject to repeated violence. From Turkey to Italy these irregular border crossings are known as “Games”. Those who are pushed to play them must survive a series of violent events and endure abuse before reaching their long-awaited destinations. One person’s journey to cross into the European Union can cost thousands of euros,[ii] but the true price is much higher, with people of all ages putting their lives in danger to cross mountains, rivers and seas.

Almost half of our patients in Serbia in 2017 were children aged under 18, almost all of them unaccompanied or separated children. Whilst these young men and boys may look well, they are left incredibly vulnerable by national and EU policies which leave many of them living rough without proper care and attention.

In the first 6 months of 2017, 92% of children and teenagers attending Médecins Sans Frontières mental health clinics and reporting physical violence mentioned EU Member State police or border authorities, namely Bulgaria, Hungary and Croatia, as the perpetrators. Almost half these children (48%) singled out Bulgarian authorities. Also from January to June 2017, MSF medical teams working in mobile clinics in Belgrade documented 62 incidents of intentional violence at the Hungarian border and 24 on the Croatian border. The vast majority of these accounts followed the same pattern of beatings, dog bites and the use of irritant spray that Médecins Sans Frontières teams have heard about for the past two years of seemingly systematic violence against people trying to cross into the European Union in the Balkans.