1st Oct 2023

Croat police kept handwritten logbook of likely pushbacks

  • Previously documented violence of migrant abuse in Croatia - this picture from 2020 is by the Danish Refugee Council (Photo: Danish Refugee Council)
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Croatian police tried to withhold incriminating evidence of likely pushbacks, documented in a hand-written logbook, from the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe human rights watchdog.

The findings were revealed on Friday (3 December) by investigators from the Council of Europe's anti-torture committee and exposes a pattern of violent abuse and denials also documented by media and NGOs over the past year.

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"It may amount to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment on the part of the Croatian authorities," said Massimo Moratti, director for research of Amnesty International in Europe, in an emailed statement of the committee's findings.

The latest revelation adds additional, official institutional credence to the reports, shedding light into how Croatian police offer contradicting accounts when it comes to forcing would-be asylum seekers back into neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The incident took place in August last year at the Korenica police station, where investigators were provided a handwritten logbook of 2,373 migrants "intercepted" or "diverted" near the border by Croatian law enforcement officials within the previous 18 days.

"By contrast, during the same time interval, only 10 foreigners had been officially arrested at Korenica police station," notes the report.

The Korenica police station oversees some 33km of the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina .

The logbook had recorded locations and dates of likely pushbacks and was used to inform the next shift of officers at the police station of the most recent developments.

"Having granted access to this logbook, once it became clear to them that it contained this compromising information, the same police officers attempted forcibly to remove the logbook from the delegation before it had completed its task," notes the 39-page report.

A Croatian police officer tried to physically pull the report out of their hands, EUobserver understands.

The head of the police station later offered an apology over the affair, given at least in part that the delegation is mandated to have access to all documentation needed to carry out its probes.

But the delegation was still met with resistance among police, including at the Cetingrad and Donji Lapac border police stations.

Among other things, it also received "credible and concordant allegations of physical ill-treatment of migrants by Croatian police officers."

This included beatings, stripping people naked, and pushing others with their hands still zip-locked into the Korana river, which separates Croatia and Bosnia.

A European Commission spokesperson said it was too early to comment on the report, when pressed.

"It is still too early for the commission to comment, however we have for now taken note of this report," he said, noting it had only just been published.

Questions over Croatia's push to become part of the passport-free Schengen zone were also fielded.

Article 43 of the Schengen Borders Code includes rules that allow EU authorities to evaluate candidate countries to the border-free zone to ensure they properly apply the rules.

But the same code, according to a European Parliament study, suggested it was unfit for determining violations of fundamental rights "due to the orchestrated nature of announced visits."

Instead, the commission spokesperson said it was discussing "remaining challenges" for Croatia's eventual entry, including "some of the issues that have been raised in this [anti-torture committee] report."

Croatian authorities have also over the summer set up a so-called independent monitor to crack down on the abuse.

But an October investigation by numerous media, led by LightHouse Reports revealed how shadow armies of masked men in Croatia were assaulting migrants in the forests and pushing them back to Bosnia.

The media probe led to the arrest of at least three Croatian officers.

The anti-torture committee delegation has since visited Bosnia and Herzegovina this past September, where it conducted a separate probe on migrant treatment near the border with Croatia.

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The European Ombudsman is launching a case into the lack of proper oversight by the European Commission when it comes to how fundamental rights of migrants and refugees are allegedly being violated by Croat border police.

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