Mistreatment of migrants, Serbian officials force them to strip at the border in freezing temperatures

Videos showing groups of men stripped naked in freezing temperatures and forced back from the Serbian border into North Macedonia are evidence of escalating mistreatment of migrants at European borders, according to human rights groups.

Two videos seen by The Guardian from Legis, a North Macedonian non-governmental organization, show a row of half-naked men on a stretch of road near the Serbian-Macedonian border.

Legis claims the incident was the second of two abusive and "degrading" returns in 24 hours, where it says more than 50 people were forced to strip naked or semi-naked by Serbian authorities before being forcibly returned to North Macedonia. .

"Legis" said that it was able to talk to the men, who identified themselves as Syrians.

Jasmin Redjepi, president of the organization, said that the "disturbing and degrading" actions come shortly after an EU-Serbia border cooperation summit aimed at strengthening the Serbian border against people smuggling.

Although it has been reported before that migrants have stripped across European borders, Redjepi has said that this is the first time reported on the border between Serbia and North Macedonia.

Rados Djurovic, director general of the Center for the Protection of Asylum Seekers, has said that his staff has seen an increase in the number of returns from Serbia to North Macedonia since the beginning of the year. "We can say that it is now a regular practice."

"These incidents are not only disturbing, but point to a wider disturbing trend among the member states of the Council of Europe. These actions seem to violate the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits refoulement and collective expulsion, as well as other international standards that require ensuring effective access to asylum for those who seek it," said Dunja Mijatovic, commissioner for human rights in the Council of Europe.

Mijatovic has said that the abuse that seems to be happening at the border of North Macedonia is an indication of the mistreatment of vulnerable people at the borders around Europe, calling the phenomenon of illegal return an urgent problem for Europe.

A report by 11.11.11, a Belgian NGO, estimated that over 346,000 forced returns occurred at Europe's external borders in 2023.

Redjepi has called for an investigation by the offices in North Macedonia and Serbia, and for human rights monitors to be allowed to observe police operations, ensuring that "violence and inhumanity do not continue."

Serbian police did not respond for comment.