7th Dec 2023

Croatia carrying out violent and illegal pushbacks, says NGO

  • Previously documented violence of migrant abuse in Croatia - this picture from 2020 is from the Danish Refugee Council (Photo: Danish Refugee Council)
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Illegal pushbacks of migrants and asylum seekers has fully resumed following Croatia's entry into the border-free Schengen area, says Human Rights Watch.

"We're seeing more and more of a return to business-as-usual," said Michael Bochenek, a researcher at the NGO and author of a 94-page report on Croatia out Wednesday (3 May).

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"People are describing violence during pushbacks, 15-year olds tell me they're being kicked by police. Money is being taken, phones are stolen or damaged," he said.

The European Commission last year praised Croatia for protecting people's rights. They said Croatia had set up a so-called independent monitoring mechanism to ensure fundamental rights are respected along the outer rim of its borders.

The praise came ahead of Croatia's entry into the Schengen area, which allows passport-free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens.

It also came at a time when Croatia's state secretary, Terezija Gras, was aiming to become the next head of the EU's border agency Frontex.

Gras had taken credit for setting up the independent monitor in June 2021, telling MEPs it would provide the necessary oversight of fundamental rights in the conduct of border police activities.

Similar systems are slated elsewhere under a proposal from the European Commission to overhaul the EU's asylum and migration policies.

But Human Rights Watch, and others, continue to dispute that any such monitor is actually doing anything of use.

"It's not independent. It doesn't really go to the border. Doesn't really monitor," said Bochenek.

"It only goes to official border crossings," he said, noting that pushbacks happen in the forests and away from official crossing points.

The Croatian government did not respond when asked for a comment. Neither has the European Commission as of publication.

For its part, the EU's border agency Frontex says it has has 10 officers stationed along official crossing points between Croatia and Bosnia, as well as another 13 between Croatia and Montenegro and 19 with Serbia.

The Danish Refugee Council says they recorded some 30,000 pushbacks from Croatia into Bosnia over the span of two years.

This includes 201 reports of pushbacks in March, involving 37 children. Some of those reports may have involved one person being pushed back multiple times.

Meanwhile, Bochenek's report offers ample testimonies and further evidence of pushbacks of people from Croatia into Bosnia, which has no functioning asylum system.

Some 100 people were interviewed, including more than 20 unaccompanied children and two dozen parents travelling with young children.

One 19-year old from Cameroon said Croatian police had beat him so badly he could not walk for two months. Two 15-year olds from Afghanistan said they had been pushed back to Bosnia by Croatian police in April.

"They said if they caught us again, they would really beat us," they told Human Rights Watch.

Illegal pushbacks happening daily in Croatia, says NGO

More than 1,600 testimonies of alleged illegal pushbacks of migrants and refugees throughout the EU has been published, collated by the Border Violence Monitoring Network and the Left party — adding to the mounting evidence of abuse.

Lithuania law to allow 'volunteer' border guards to use violence

Lithuania's parliament passed a controversial new law allowing volunteers from around Europe to join its national border guard force — while giving them the right to use violence against asylum seekers and migrants crossing in from Belarus.

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