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Asylum 'under attack' at Europe's borders, UN refugee agency says

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Police officers stand by migrants as they leave to be relocated from the Lipa camp northwestern Bosnia, near the border with Croatia, Bosnia, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020.
Police officers stand by migrants as they leave to be relocated from the Lipa camp northwestern Bosnia, near the border with Croatia, Bosnia, Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020.   -   Copyright  Kemal Softic/AP Photo
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Asylum is "under attack" at European borders, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Thursday, denouncing reports of pushbacks and limits to asylum access.

The agency has received a "continuous stream of reports of some European states restricting access to asylum, returning people after they have reached territory or territorial waters, and using violence against them at borders,” said UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Gillian Triggs in a statement.

It comes despite a decrease in new arrivals to the European Union, the agency said.

Some 95,000 migrants arrived by sea and land in 2020, which was a decrease of 23% compared to 2019 and a 33% decrease compared to 2018. That year, some 141,500 individuals arrived by sea and land.

“With so few arrivals to Europe, this should be a manageable situation,” said Triggs.

“It is regrettable that the issue of asylum remains politicised and divisive despite such declining numbers.”

She added that pushbacks were "violent" and apparently "systematic."

"Boats carrying refugees are being towed back. People are being rounded-up after they land and then pushed back to sea. Many have reported violence and abuse by state forces," Triggs said.

The European Court of Justice ruled in December that Hungary had failed to comply with EU law by restricting access to asylum and pushing back migrants into neighbouring Serbia.

Frontex suspended its border operations in the country this month following the ruling.

A new EU pact on migration unveiled last year aims to streamline the process among member states and better share the burden of relocating asylum seekers within the bloc.