Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

EYE ON AFRICA

South Africa : 20 children killed in a bus crash near Pretoria

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

An Election in the Shadow of Terror

Read more

#TECH 24

How fintech is helping the unbanked

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Turning up the heat with French firefighters

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

Champs-Elysées attack: What impact on Sunday's French election? (part 1)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

After Brexit and Trump: World waits on French presidential election (part 2)

Read more

REPORTERS

Battle to stop nuclear waste being buried in a French village

Read more

THE CAMPAIGN BEAT

After Champs-Élysées attack, security takes centre stage in election campaign

Read more

PEOPLE & PROFIT

Brexit: Come what May

Read more

FOCUS

Our Focus programme brings you exclusive reports from around the world. From Monday to Friday at 7.45 am Paris time.

Latest update : 2011-03-23

Asylum seekers face abuse at the gates of Europe

The numbers of migrants trying to cross into the EU from Ukraine appear to be falling, no doubt because EU assistance has reinforced Ukrainian border patrols. But an alarming report by Human Rights Watch suggests that ill-treatment of migrants on the Ukrainian side may also be part of the deterrent.

As Italy panics over an influx of migrants to its shores from North Africa, concern is also growing over the plight of those who try to enter the European Union by a different route: from the East, via Ukraine.

The former Soviet state borders EU members Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania. Last year, more than 1,000 migrants were detained on those borders. Another 700 were returned to Ukraine from the EU, under a year-old agreement between Kiev and Brussels.

The numbers trying to cross appear to be falling, partly because EU assistance has reinforced Ukrainian border patrols. But an alarming report by Human Rights Watch suggests that ill-treatment of migrants on the Ukrainian side may also be part of the deterrent. Of 50 migrants interviewed for the report, says HRW's Simone Troller, "half said they had been beaten, and eight reported electric-shock torture."

The Ukrainian border service say eight officers suspected of ill-treatment have been fired or transferred, but they have yet to face further disciplinary action.

France 24 met a group of Somali migrants in Uzhgorod, nestled between the Hungarian and Slovakian borders in the far south-western corner of Ukraine. Somalis and Afghans form the largest national groups trying to reach the EU via Ukraine. Of those in Uzhgorod, some reported ill-treatment, others did not.

But all of them seemed to agree that Ukraine had nothing to offer them. "They have no chance of working, they have no chance of gaining refugee status, they have no rights and they are constantly hassled by the police, the border guard, the secret services", says Natacha Kabatsi of the Medical Aid Committee, a local NGO.

Hassan, a 20-year-old Somali who lives in a small flat with five others, said that although he lived in fear of racist beatings, he understood why many Ukrainians feel their country should not have to bear the burden of helping refugees: "When I checked their history and their economy, I realised... they are suffering too".

Migrants who are caught or sent back to Ukraine are first held for a week or so in temporary detention centres run by the border guard. The worst stories of ill-treatment come from these places. They are usually then either housed indefinitely in "temporary" accommodation centres, or released. In the latter case they have to obtain permits to remain in the country, of a duration of one to three weeks, and can often only do so with the help of a lawyer.

The accommodation centres have received funding from the EU, but due to changes to the Ukrainian system they have not received any state funds since the end of 2010. They are overcrowded and nutrition is poor. The most glaring lack, however, is that of any prospect for improvement in the migrants' lot in the long term: "the system", Kabatsi sums up simply, "does not work".

Hassan agrees. "Here, our only opportunity is to stay and hear bad words, or worse. My only plan... is to try again to cross". Fortress Europe's assistance to Ukraine is clearly helping to make that harder to do. But the alternatives are much less clear…

 

Programme prepared by Kate Williams, Marie Billon and Patrick Lovett

By Gulliver CRAGG

COMMENT(S)

Archives

2017-04-21 France

Fighting fuel poverty in France

Fuel poverty affects more than 10 million people in France. Financial aid programmes have been stepping in to help these people to heat their homes, many of which are poorly...

Read more

2017-04-19 Russia

How Russian activists are getting around strict laws on protesting

The next presidential election in Russia is planned for early 2018 and the opposition is already getting organised. But the right to protest is extremely limited and tightly...

Read more

2017-04-18 Philippines

Duterte's bloody war on drugs resumes after brief break

Last month saw the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, resume his draconian war on drugs. The initial crackdown was suspended earlier this year after rogue police men...

Read more

2017-04-17 France

Are France's ageing nuclear plants safe?

Despite heightened surveillance and draconian control measures, the answers from nuclear analysts is far from unanimous. Despite these questions, the French power giant that...

Read more

2017-04-14 Turkey

Erdogan's push for more power: Who will vote against him?

On Sunday, the Turks will vote in a referendum on a proposed constitutional reform that would see the implementation of a presidential regime, greatly strengthening President...

Read more