Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

ENCORE!

The highs and lows of Cannes for the critics

Read more

EYE ON AFRICA

Remembering our friend and colleague Jean-Karim Fall

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Bad diplomacy, brawls & bromance

Read more

ENCORE!

Cannes 2017: Pitch Perfect's Brittany Snow becomes an urban warrior

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

US President wraps up world tour in Italy (Part 1)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

US President wraps up world tour in Italy (Part 2)

Read more

FOCUS

The battle against illegal fishing in West Africa

Read more

DOWN TO EARTH

Trump has already quit the Paris climate deal - just not publicly

Read more

#TECH 24

The Ice Memory Project: A treasure trove for future scientists

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

2017-05-26 Africa

The battle against illegal fishing in West Africa

The oceans off West Africa are teeming with life. Fish is a staple of many diets in the region and accounts for the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands in countries like Senegal...

Read more

2017-05-25 Middle East

Life after IS group: Young Iraqis learn to live together in Kirkuk

How do you rebuild a country deeply divided by years of war? That's the question the people of Iraq need to answer. Divisions have been exacerbated by the violence of the Islamic...

Read more

2017-05-24 Europe

Spain's Doñana National Park is dying of thirst

The Doñana National Park in southern Spain is a UNESCO world heritage site. The park is the largest nature reserve for migratory birds in Europe. But this fragile ecosystem is...

Read more

2017-05-23 Asia-pacific

A lifeline for women facing domestic violence in Pakistan

In Pakistan, the government of Punjab province has announced it will open 36 centres to protect women who are victims of violence. It's a first in a country considered to be one...

Read more

2017-05-22 health

'Healing viruses' offer hope in fight against 'superbugs'

Antibiotic resistance is fast becoming a crucial global health problem. It occurs when bacteria evolve and transform into superbugs, which are resistant to existing antibiotics....

Read more