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26th Sep 2020

EU Commission to probe Croat border attacks on migrants

The European Commission intends to send officials to monitor the Croat border following fresh allegations of torture of migrants and asylum seekers, which it condemned.

Speaking to reporters on Friday (12 June), a commission spokesperson said a monitoring mission is planned "to ensure that the activities of the Croatian border guards remain fully compliant with the respect of fundamental rights."

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But no dates have been fixed, although the Commission says arrangements will be made as soon as the pandemic eases up.

"It would be really good to see what they come back with but it is difficult to have hope," Jelena Sesar, a researcher at Amnesty International told EUobserver.

The NGO had earlier this week documented cases of torture and beatings of migrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan inside the Croat border near Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Around 10 men dressed in black, masked and heavily armed, had allegedly carried out the attacks in late May.

They are also said to have smeared the wounds with mayonnaise and ketchup, in moves similar to earlier reports of attacks where heads were spraypainted as an act of humiliation.

Sesar says there is little doubt the abuse had been carried out by a special unit within the Croat police.

"They are certainly part of the official law enforcement of Croatia and I think we have no doubt that in this case," she said, noting they were carrying weapons not available for purchase by civilians.

One victim said that the attackers were laughing and singing while carrying out the beatings.

An emergency doctor at the medical clinic, who later treated the wounded, said some had suffered collapsed lungs and multiple fractures, among other injuries.

The Croatian government has denied it all and claims the injuries are most likely due to fighting among the migrants themselves, noting a recent clash near a border village in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But the latest incident fits a pattern of abuse reported over the past few years that have largely escaped any serious official scrutiny.

The European Commission had in the past funded monitoring missions in Croatia to ensure rights were being respected. The UN Refugee Agency, under its own funding, and a local NGO had also carried out monitoring.

"They never had access to the Green border [official border entry points] and they never had access to the places where push backs were actually happening. Both were denied any access to the border," pointed out Sesar.

She also said that most of the some €360,000 of EU funds meant to set up a monitoring mission had been spent by the Croats to equip police and shore up border security.

Any credible monitoring mission by the Commission, noted Sesar, would need to involve public reporting and input from NGOs and Croatia's ombudsperson.

"Failing this, it is difficult to see how the upcoming mission would make a difference," she said.

Left-leaning MEPs in December made similar comments following a visit to the region where they say people were being violently pushed back from Croatia and into Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"Contrary to what the Croatian government and the European Commission say, it is evident that there is no human rights monitoring mechanism," Tineke Strik, a Dutch Green MEP said at the time.

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The European Commission says it may create a new system to monitor push backs by EU states. The announcement follows weeks of dithering by the commission, which has refrained from condemning abuse by Greek and Croat authorities, despite mounting evidence.

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