New report shows extent of abuse to migrants on Balkans route

140 migrants were interviewed about their experiences

Refugees and migrants using the Western Balkan route to reach Europe claim that violence, brutality and unlawful treatment by authorities are a frequent occurrence.

In a new report published by NGOs, people fleeing war, persecution and poverty describe beatings, robbery and inhumane treatment at the hands of police, border guards and other officials. In many cases, people describe illegal deportations with state agents denying access to asylum procedures for those seeking international protection.

The report A Dangerous ‘Game’ is based on 140 interviews with people on the move and exposes a disturbing pattern of brutality and abuse by law enforcement officials against migrants, including children. The name comes from the term used by migrants to refer to their attempts to cross borders without interception and ill-treatment by government agents. 

With the support of Oxfam, the research was conducted by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) and the Macedonian Young Lawyers Association (MYLA). It includes testimonies of incidents in Serbia, Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

"They put us in a cage"

All 140 people interviewed for the report claim to have suffered mistreatment by officials. Accounts of abuses include:

  • Border police in Croatia forcing migrants to strip and walk back over the border to Serbia, while running a gauntlet of officers who beat them back with batons
  • Hungarian officials forcing migrants to take off their clothes and sit in snow as they poured cold water over them.
  • Bulgarian police searching a group of migrants and taking all of their valuables, including their shoes, before sending them back over the border


One of the interviewees, Isaaq from Afghanistan, described his treatment in Bulgaria: “They put us in a cage and didn’t give us food for three days. They beat us so badly. They even gave us electric shocks.”


Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive, said: “The testimonies we have collected expose the horrendous treatment governments, including those of European Union member states, are condoning in order to stop people entering their territory.

"These people are fleeing unimaginable situations in their home countries – violence, persecution, disaster and poverty – and for them to be met with brutality and worse here in Europe is shocking and unjust.”

Nikolina Milić of the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) said: “Violence and intimidation must be replaced with fair and effective access to asylum procedures, and authorities must investigate claims of abuse.”





Oxfam, BCHR and MYLA are calling on the governments of Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, Hungary and Bulgaria to urgently take action against the perpetrators of crimes against migrants and refugees, and for the EU to act immediately to prevent further abuse of migrants on their territory and guarantee the right to due process before the law.

To read the full report, click here or see the attached.