Union advocates call for protection and safe passage for migrants and refugees

Authors from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and The Union’s Senior Advisor, Research, Prof Anthony Harries, have published an article in Conflict and Health calling for protection and safe passage for migrants and refugees who travel along the Western Balkan corridor to Northern Europe.

Between 2015 and early 2016, over one million migrants and refugees transited Balkan countries and arrived in Europe. To curb this influx, European countries instituted restrictive migration policies which were often characterised by razor-wire border fences and border closures. The prevalence and patterns of violent events experienced by migrants and refugees were assessed at mobile mental health clinics run by MSF in Serbia between July 2015 and June 2016.

There were 992 migrants and refugees who attended these MSF mental health clinics, of whom nearly three quarters were from Syria and Afghanistan and included vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied minors and pregnant women. Of these 992 individuals, 270 (27%) experienced violent events during their journey. Signs of physical trauma due to acts of violence were seen in 223 (22%) individuals: state authorities (police and border control guards) in Europe perpetrated these injuries in 65% of individuals, including in women and children. Border closures during this 12-month period were associated with an increase in violence.

These findings herald serious short-comings in the obligation of Balkan States to provide humane treatment and protection to migrants and refugees.  The paper finishes by concluding that there is a “crisis of protection and safe passage” which needs to change towards one of respect for the principles and provisions of international and refugee law.

In co-authoring this paper, The Union supports MSF’s efforts to ensure health and security for those most in need. 

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