Physical risks

Migrants in transit are exposed to many physical risks such as violence at borders and illegal pushbacks at sea.  Migrants are often told by smugglers that the journey to Europe will be safe and easy, but in fact smuggling puts migrants at serious risk of abuse and exploitation.

What physical risks do migrants face on the journey to Europe?

Turkey has been a key transit point for irregular migrants aiming to cross into Europe.

Migrants who attempt to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece face violent pushbacks. Human rights organisations have documented hundreds of illegal pushbacks involving Greek authorities intercepting asylum seekers who arrive by boat and forcibly returning them to Turkey. In some cases, asylum seekers are beaten before being forced onto unseaworthy boats and expelled from the country.

Migrants also face risks attempting to reach Greece via the land route along the Evros River. Many migrants report being robbed, beaten and detained by authorities at the border, and sent back to Turkey.

In March 2020, tens of thousands of asylum seekers attempted to cross into Greece from Turkey after the country temporarily opened its borders. Greek authorities responded by violently pushing back migrants with tear gas. In response to the influx, Greece is extending a barrier along its northeastern border with Turkey to prevent migrants from entering.

Migrants face many risks attempting to reach Western Europe via the Balkan route – the migration route through Serbia and Bosnia to Hungary or Croatia.

People smugglers promise migrants that they will make it into the EU but strict border controls mean that many migrants end up stranded in camps in Serbia and Bosnia.

Migrants attempt to cross the border into EU countries like Croatia and Hungary. To stem the flow, Hungary erected a 175-kilometer border fence in 2015. Despite the obstacles, many migrants still attempt the dangerous border crossing but face harsh treatment by the border guards. Others pay smugglers to cross into Hungary or Croatia by hiding in unsafe and overcrowded vehicles but are at risk of being caught and detained. Those who do make it across the Hungarian or Croatian border are often denied access to asylum procedures and forcibly returned to Serbia, according to testimonies gathered by the Border Violence Monitoring Network.

Migrants who attempt to cross into Romania also report facing violent pushbacks by Romanian border guards.