Last Updated: Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Controversy Surrounds The Handling Of Violent Refugee Protests In Europe; Crowd Control Or Riot Control?
Updated: Tuesday, April 19, 2016

When crowd control turns into riot control. Photo: AFI/Getty (c) 2016, cropped

The huge influx of refugees from the Middle East has overwhelmed many EU countries, as well as Turkey. Millions of destitute people are undocumented and without means of support or knowledge of local languages or customs. Many European countries are trying to cope with this unanticipated and overwhelming burden that has laid waste legal immigration procedures.

European leaders wonder not only how to stop the flow of refugee, but how to do so humanely. Last week, the issue gained national attention again when frustrations boiled over in Idomeni, Greece, along the Macedonian border (April 10).

There is no simple counter procedure to use when crowds of refugees attempt to invade a sovereign country’s border as occurred in this particular case. Efforts by border authorities can quickly turn from crowd control to riot control as it did in the account told by IBT reporter Jess McHugh in her story ”Violence Against Refugees In Europe: Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets Can Be Lethal, Doctors And Humanitarians Warn.”

Ms. McHugh's story centers on the violence in Idomeni that erupted when some camp refugees on the Greece side of the border attempted to enter Macedonia. Refused entry by Macedonia officials, swarms of refugees turned to violence, throwing projectiles at border patrols and causing other mayhem. The action of the rioters was met with teargas (canisters) and rubber bullets that eyewitnesses claim were indiscriminately showered on rebelling refugees and non-protesters in and around the border refugee camp. The border riot was said to have lasted most of the day. Three hundred people were reported injured by the media.

NGOs criticized the reckless use of so-called non-lethal weapons as a means of crowd control in this latest incident.

The truth is, when rubber bullets, teargas projectiles and other potentially lethal devices are used against a crowd, one is no longer speaking of crowd control. The accurate term is riot control.

Accuracy in terminology is immensely important. If the correct terms are not used to accurate describe real-time situations, the response by law enforcement, for example, is less likely to be appropriate. And, post-assessments are less likely to be accurate, as well; and lessons learned lost.

Generally speaking, crowd control is the restriction or limitation of group behavior using non-violent or limited physical force to protect the public and property. For example, crowd control techniques include barricades, police lines and designated routes. Riot control, on the other hand, one could say is the restriction or suppression of violent group behavior using appropriate physical force and materiel to protect the public and property. For example, teargas, rubber bullets, batons, and so on.

Maintaining the distinction between crowd control and riot control is also important to a democratic society as well as any people exercising the right to free speech. Crowd control serves to preserve freedom of expression. Riot control serves to suppress violent and destructive expression.

Ms. McHugh’s story includes numerous viewpoints on the use of right control techniques from human rights organizations, as well as a couple of crowd safety comments from Crowd Management Strategies’ Paul Wertheimer.

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