September 23, 2015

After arduous journeys from their distant homelands in pursuit of safety and better living conditions, what migrants face in Europe is far from a warm welcome or humane treatment but abuse and instability. The sheer numbers of migrants arriving in Europe caused an unprecedented political crisis, and the European authorities have not so far managed to agree upon a common policy to cope with the problem. The governments which were first prone to welcoming migrants with cheerful remarks, as in the cases of Germany and Croatia, changed their tone in time and accentuated that the scope of the problem made it impossible for a country to deal with the influx of migrants alone.

The European Commission, in order to bring an obligatory quota for each member state to accept a proportionate number of refugees, met yesterday amidst the discrepant views of its members and reached an agreement for resettlement of 120.000 migrants within the European Union. Czech government warned that this plan, even approved, cannot be carried out; and Robert Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia, wowed he would never carry this plan out as long as he was in office. The Refugee Agency of the United Nations, on the other hand, stated that the quota was not sufficient for resolving the crisis, as the relocation of some migrants would not be enough for stabilising the entire situation. The UN announced that 480.000 migrants reached Europe through sea this year, and currently six thousand migrants come ashore in Europe daily. Relocating 120.000 migrants, therefore, seems far from a real solution.

In addition to the political ambiguity regarding their future in Europe, refugees also struggle for protecting themselves from the law enforcement officers in some countries. Macedonia, a major route for migrants to reach the more prosperous parts of the continent, is especially hostile towards refugees. The Human Rights Watch has released a report which detailed the physical and verbal abuse of refugees by Macedonian officials and sheer failure of the state authorities to investigate the crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice. Also documented in the report was the arbitrary detention of migrants in “inhuman and degrading” conditions. The report clearly portrays that those who flee the brutal wars in countries such as Syria, Somalia, and Afghanistan have been exposed to fierce police violence, abuse, and cruel treatment in Macedonia.

Refugees are detained arbitrarily and abused by the police guards in Macedonia, and until now there has been no attempt on the government’s side to investigate those responsible and prevent such crimes from taking place again. The Human Rights Watch also talked to the individuals who were the victims of abuse by the Macedonian authorities. In one striking case, Tariq, who escaped from Syrian civil war and crossed to Greece from Turkey, told briefly how he was treated in Macedonia, a transitory country in his route to the North-Western Europe.

Gazi Baba Detention Centre


When in the country, he was swiftly arrested and taken to a detention centre known as Gazi Baba. There he slept on the floor without beds or mattresses, stayed in corridors, and shared a toilet with hundreds of detainees. He could only take a shower once in a week, and there was only cold water. In his two-month long stay in the detention centre, everyday he received only a small can of tuna, a piece of bread, and sometimes cheese to last through the day. Apart from the grim living conditions, he was not allowed to see a lawyer, and nobody explained him the reason of his detention and its duration. He also experienced gratuitous violence in Gazi Baba, “We would get beaten. If they see you in the hallway at night, they would beat you. And if you asked about your case, the boss, the chief, would beat you. He once found a mobile phone with a guy. He started beating him barbarically, by slapping him, kicking him. It was a brutal beating that resulted in nose-bleeding. There were others doing the beating, it was horrendous. They beat people too often. The beating itself is not the problem; it’s rather the humiliation.” After his two-month stay in Gazi Baba, Tariq told that he was “utterly shattered.”

In early July, another international human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, also accused Balkan countries of mistreating migrants. The issue of refugees, in most of the cases, is discussed in Europe as a matter of border politics and security rather than human rights. There are razor-fences built for deterring their entrance to Hungary, in Calais rails are fenced with high-security material for preventing their access to the trains en route to the United Kingdom, and between Austria and Germany the border is closed for keeping them out: Migrants, in the present day Europe, are the common target. The numbers of migrants reaching Europe increase day by day, and it looks likely that it will take a while before European countries start acting in unity according to the basic fact that migrants are also human beings who deserve fair treatment.