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1st Oct 2022

EU watchdog launches probe on Croat border violence

The EU's administrative watchdog is launching an inquiry into the lack of European Commission oversight on abuses of migrants on the border in Croatia.

The European Ombudsman case on Tuesday (9 November) follows a complaint by Amnesty International against the European Commission.

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"For us this is obviously very encouraging because we are really sure it is going to force the European Commission to take its responsibility more seriously," Jelena Sesar, a researcher at Amnesty International told EUobserver.

She says the commission failed to address persistent allegations of serious human rights abuses by Croatian authorities on the shared borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Serbia.

The commission had paid out some €300,000 EU funds in 2018 to establish a monitoring mechanism in Croatia. The system is meant to ensure that fundamental rights of migrants and asylum seekers are not violated.

"Almost none of these funds have actually been used for the purpose that they were meant to be used," said Sesar.

Years of documented abuse, photos, and testimonies of migrants and asylum seekers along the borders suggest that the system has failed.

"The reluctance of the commission to undertake any type of meaningful inquiry into the violations is difficult to understand or justify in the context of significant funding provided by the EU to Croatia," said the NGO in its complaint to the European Ombudsman.

The European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, will narrow her case into the EU-financed Croat monitoring mechanism.

Evidence gathered by Amnesty, along with others including media outlets, document widespread abuse over the years of migrants and asylum seekers trying to enter Croatia.

Those findings suggest Croatia is engaging in collective expulsions, denying people the right to claim asylum, and beating and humiliating others.

Last month, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) published photos of refugees who were allegedly beaten and sexually abused by Croatian authorities.

The NGO had collected testimonies from more than 70 migrations and refugees at a camp in western Bosnia, who said they were violently pushed back by Croatian border police.

Croatia has dismissed the allegations but EU commissioner Ylva Johansson in late October said she was taking the reports seriously.

In a Tweet, Johansson said she would discuss the matter with Croat counterparts.

"I will also discuss further development of the monitoring mechanism that the Croatian authorities put in place with the Commission's financial support," she noted.

Croatia has received over €23m in EU money for migration and border management.

It obtained another €6.5m in 2018 for border surveillance, which helped finance the monitoring system.

Amnesty International, in its complaint, said the commission had failed to conduct any meaningful inquiry into the alleged abuse by the Croatians.

The commission over the summer announced it would sent officials to ensure Croat border guards comply with fundamental rights.

That mission has been delayed due to the pandemic caused by Covid-19.

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