In the first week of September (2. 8. 2021), MEPs in the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs confronted Slovenian Interior Minister Aleš Hojs as he presented the priorities for Slovenian presidency of the Council of the European Union in Brussels. With evidence provided by BVMN and network members InfoKolpa and Are You Syrious, representatives of The Left in the European Parliament took the Presidency to task for its systemic policy of chain-pushbacks and flagrant abuse of the rule of law. Members also shamed the Slovenian Ministry of Interior for continuing to ignore a Supreme Court ruling which established Slovenia had violated the rights of a Cameroonian plaintiff and are obligated to allow him access to the Slovenian asylum system and to stop returning people to Croatia as there is overwhelming evidence of chain-refoulement and degrading treatment often amounting to tortute.
Presenting the evidence
Malin Björk, whose fact-finding trip to Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia was facilitated by Are You Syrious and Infokolpa, then handed over the Black Book of Pushbacks to Minister Hojs, a dossier of cases recorded by the Border Violence Monitoring Network which collates pushback violations from across the Balkans since 2017. The book has a concerningly large section on Slovenian chain pushbacks, sharing the voices of 1266 people documented by BVMN who had either been chain pushed back (via Croatia) to Bosnia-Herzegovina or Serbia. The cases speak of systemic gatekeeping of asylum, misuse of translation, the registering of minors as adults, and fast-tracked returns to Croatian police who would then carry out brutal pushbacks. All point to a high level of complicity by the Slovenian authorities in the brutalisation of people-on-the-move, a fact reinforced by the April ruling of the Slovenian Supreme Court.
Yet this first hand evidence is in reality just the tip of the iceberg, and a recent open letter on the matter revealed how according to officially available data, over 27,000 returns of potential asylum seekers were carried out by Slovenian authorities in the recent years, resulting in chain refoulement via Croatia to non-EU countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“I expect you as a responsible Minister, not only for your country, but for the EU Presidency to take part of this document and tell us what you will do to stop the illegality, impunity and the brutality.”
More weak denials
Interior Minister Hojs doubled down on his stance that Slovenia was managing its borders according to the Rule of Law, even despite his own national court ruling the complete opposite. In an unsurprising move, reminiscent of many Interior Ministers across the EU, Hojs levied accusations of fake news and dismissed the Black Book set before him as a fabrication. Referring to his short attempt to actually look at the evidence presented in the book Hojs stated: “How many lies can be concentrated on one half page, I immediately closed the book and did not touch it again”. With the Minister unwilling to leaf through the 244 pages dedicated to crimes carried out by Slovenia, the network welcome him to view the visual reconstruction of a pushback published last year which vividly captured the experience of those denied asylum access in Slovenia and then brutalised while being collectively expelled from Croatia.
“I have read the Black Book already in parliament and have seen what they write about me and the Slovenian police. All lies.”
– Minister Hojs Speaking to Slovenian TV
The fact is that Minister Hojs is personally not mentioned in the Black Book, though his actions are documented on countless pages, implies that someone is indeed lying. Court judgements, the testimony of thousands of pushback victims, and hard video evidence all highlight the fragility of the Slovenian government’s “fake news” line. While already deeply concerning at a national level, the fact that this administration is also spearheading the EU Presidency shows the extent to which perpetrators of pushbacks have been enabled and empowered at the highest level in Brussels. As a recent webinar event hosted by InfoKolpa and BVMN asked: Can a country responsible for mass violations of Human Rights be an honest broker in the preparations of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum? Until the ruling by the Supreme Court is implemented and people-on-the-move have their mandated right to request asylum in Slovenia, this question will continue to be answered firmly with a “no”.
Today, our MEPs talked to @aleshojs 🇸🇮 Minister of Home Affairs about the thousands of men, women and children who have been denied over the past years the right to seek asylum in Slovenia, and forcefully handed over to Croatian. @Border_Violence #StopPushbacks pic.twitter.com/XvNLvoCLhY
— The Left in the European Parliament (@Left_EU) September 2, 2021
“I was in Velika Kladusa in Bosnia, I was astonished to meet many migrants and refugees that had been to Slovenia, but they had been told that the right to seek asylum did not exist in you country. One of the persons that I met there was from Cameroon and had escaped political persecution. Once he thought he was in safety in Slovenia he called the police himself to ask to be able to claim asylum. Instead he was as so many others, as thousand of others, handed over to the Croatian police who brutalised him and sent him back to Bosnia.
This case is a little bit special, compared to the many thousands of others, because on 9th April this year the Slovenian Supreme Court itself ruled that Slovenian police had violated the principle of non-refoulement, the prohibition of collective expulsion and denied the him the right to seek international protection.
You (Minister Hojs) have had meetings with Commissioner Johansson and you have said you will stand up for the right to seek asylum for asylum seekers. Now your own court has found that you fail in this case. So my questions are: Will you stand by your words and provide a humanitarian visa for this person so that he can come back to Slovenia to apply for asylum as he was supposed to have been granted two years ago? And the second is more structural of course, how will you ensure that people have the right to apply for asylum in Slovenia, that they are not brutally pushed back to Croatian police, who are then illegally pushing them back to Bosnia in a kind of chain pushback situation which is a shame, a shame, at European borders?”
– Malin Björk MEP
The case referred to is part of strategic litigation efforts led by network member InfoKolpa, which resulted in a landmark judgement issued on 16 July 2020 by the Slovenian Administrative Court. The findings prove that the Slovenian police force in August 2019 carried out an illegal collective expulsion of a member of a persecuted English-speaking minority from Cameroon who wanted to apply for asylum in the country. The verdict was confirmed on 9th April 2021 by the Slovenian Supreme Court, which ruled the following: the Slovenian police violated the principle of non-refoulement, the prohibition of collective expulsions and denied the asylum seeker access to the right to international protection. The state was ordered to ensure that the plaintiff is allowed to re-enter the country and ask for international protection, but no effort has been made by the authorities to respect the ruling of the court. The case is thus another confirmation of the Slovenian misconduct that persistently undermines the foundations of the rule of law, specifically international refugee law and international human rights law.
We fear for Slovenia.