Amnesty International said the Slovenian Parliament should reject amendments to the Aliens Act that, once triggered, would breach international law.
Slovenia’s government approved amendments to its law on foreigners yesterday (5 January) enabling its police to seal the country’s borders to illegal migrants for a limited period if needed.
The changes, expected to be ratified by parliament, are meant to prevent a repeat of a six-month-long flood of migrants across Slovenia that ended in March 2016, when several countries to its south closed the main Balkan migration route.
Around 500,000 illegal migrants crossed Slovenia, the smallest country along the migration corridor, on their way to desired destinations in the wealthier Western European countries.
Interior Minister Vesna Györkös Žnidar said Slovenia would not be able to endure another migrant flow of that kind, especially as its northern neighbour Austria and other west European states were now closing their doors to migrants.
“The new legislation will be used only if migration would be endangering the public order and internal security of Slovenia,” Žnidar told a news conference.
Amnesty International, in a statement, urged parliament to reject the legal changes as they “would deny refugees and asylum seekers the protections to which they are entitled under international and EU law”.
“Stripping people fleeing for their lives of their right to claim asylum and pushing them back at the border is a breach of international and EU law. Instead of treating refugees and asylum-seekers as a security risk, the Slovenian authorities should recognise their responsibility to protect people who have made terrifying journeys and risked everything in search of safety,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s deputy Europe director.
“This bill resembles similar efforts of Slovenia’s neighbours – most notably Hungary but also Austria – to seal their borders to those fleeing horrors of war. It rides roughshod over both the right that every individual has to ask for asylum and the obligation Slovenia has to fully assess each claim,” she added
Rejecting an asylum seeker or a migrant at the border without due process and consideration of their individual circumstances is a pushback, and is prohibited in all circumstances under EU and international law, Amnesty International highlighted.
The rights group also said that the new legislation doesn’t include sound safeguards against the risk of torture or persecution upon return to another country (the principle of non-refoulement) and potential chain refoulement, i.e. returning people to a country where they could be exposed to torture and ill-treatment.
For example, migrants and asylum-seekers denied entry to Slovenia and returned to Croatia could further be at the risk of being returned to Serbia or Bulgaria “where reception conditions are inadequate”, or to Hungary “which flagrantly ignores EU and international law”.
“The government claims that people whose life or health would be in danger would be excluded, but how would the government even identify these people if it circumvents proper assessments altogether?” Van Gulik asked.