Video shows dozens of migrants stripped and forced across Serbia-North Macedonia border

Video shows dozens of migrants stripped and forced across Serbia-North Macedonia border
Video shot by NGO Legis shows a group of nearly naked men at the border between Serbia and North Macedonia. / Legis via Instagram
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje February 23, 2024

A video recently published by a Skopje-based NGO has brought attention to a distressing incident with migrants at the Serbia-North Macedonia border.

The footage allegedly shows a group of semi-naked men apparently being pushed back into North Macedonia by Serbian border police. The incident involved 70 people who arrived in Lojane village on the border, beaten and robbed over the weekend starting on February 10, North Macedonia's NGO Legis claimed on social networks.

This followed a smaller incident the previous day involving seven young Bangladeshi men.

However, on February 22, Serbia's Ministry of Internal Affairs refuted claims of police involvement in the incident concerning irregular migrants. They asserted that the Serbian police adhere to legal regulations and human rights principles.

Legis is an ethnic Albanian NGO dedicated to supporting people in Gaza during the conflict between the Israeli army and the terrorist organisation Hamas. Legis actively gathers donations and operates under the slogan "In solidarity with Gaza from Macedonia". 

"In a 48 hour period, over 70 people - either naked or stripped to their underwear in 3°C temperatures - were arriving at North Macedonia's border, in an incident on a scale not observed for over seven years," Legis said.

Legis is calling for an immediate halt to the dehumanisation of migrants and a violation of their rights. Furthermore, the organisation demands a thorough investigation into the matter and urges human rights organisations to be allowed to monitor police operations in the future.

The NGO's concerns regarding the alleged pushbacks and mistreatment of migrants came at a critical time, coinciding with a two-day EU-Serbia meeting in Belgrade.

During the meeting, discussions revolved around the "continuation of cooperation in the fight against migrant smuggling, readmission and return, capacities for asylum and reception, [and] border management." 

While the video published by the NGO has brought attention to the distressing incident, the authenticity of the footage published last week has not been proven.

Dunja Mijatovic, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, said: “Recent reports of alleged pushbacks by Serbian police officers at the border with North Macedonia, characterised by ill- and degrading treatment and robbery of migrants, possibly including those attempting to seek asylum, require prompt and effective investigation by state authorities.”

Regarding a disputed recording involving alleged mistreatment, Serbia's Border Police Administration said that it received a request from North Macedonia for a statement. Upon investigation, Serbian police found no patrols in the mentioned area and denied the use of service dogs.

The police noted that since January 13, 2023, the border police have overseen the state border between Serbia and North Macedonia in collaboration with police officers from Austria and Hungary under the trilateral cooperation memorandum.

Neither Austrian nor Hungarian police members have reported any incidents or misconduct by the Serbian border police during their joint monitoring efforts along the state border, the Serbian police said.

In 2015, the Western Balkan route running via North Macedonia and Serbia emerged as an important pathway for irregular migration from the Middle East and North Africa to the EU member countries.