Amnesty: EU ‘Complicit’ in Illegal Pushbacks from Croatia

New report by Amnesty International accuses the EU and European governments of being actively complicit in - and helping to fund – 'violent and illegal' pushbacks of migrants and refugees from Croatia.

Photo: Border Violence Monitoring.

A new report by the international rights watchdog Amnesty International, published on Wednesday, has accused the European Union of being complicit in violent pushbacks of migrants and refugees from Croatia, which is on the EU’s external border.

For almost a year, NGOs that assist migrants and refugees have been reporting that the Croatian police have systematically used violence to expel migrants and refugees from the country.

“European governments are complicit in the systematic, unlawful and frequently violent pushbacks and collective expulsions of thousands of asylum seekers to squalid and unsafe refugee camps in BiH [Bosnia],” the report, entitled Pushed to the edge: Violence and abuse against refugees and migrants along Balkan Route, said.

“European leaders can no longer wash their hands of responsibility for the continued collective expulsions and violent pushbacks along the Balkan route,” it added.

“To understand where the priorities of European governments lie, one only needs to follow the money. Their financial contribution towards humanitarian assistance is dwarfed by the funds they provide for border security, which includes equipping Croatian border police and even paying their salaries,” the report quotes Massimo Moratti, Director of Research for Amnesty International’s Europe Office, as saying.

Migrants filmed being forced to chant fascist slogan

Footage of a Croatian policeman forcing detained migrants to chant slogans in support of the football team Dinamo Zagreb has spread on social networks.

According to a Croatian NGO, the Centre for Peace Studies, CMS, and local media, the footage was filmed on 6 March in the area of the Cetingrad border police station. The migrants who had tried to enter Croatia later returned to Bosnia.

“Given that the persons spoke English well, one of the police officers encouraged them to engage in improper communication and filmed them with the help of a mobile device,” Croatian police said to CMS.

On Wednesday, the police confirmed to BIRN that “improper communication” also included forcing the migrants to chant “Za dom spremni” (“Ready for the homeland”) – a slogan of Croatia’s wartime fascist Ustasa movement.

The ministry said police would initiate disciplinary proceedings against three officers who were present, while the policeman who filmed the migrants would be removed from duty.

Amnesty International said that while migrants and refugees are attempting to reach the EU, they are frequently subjected to deliberate pushbacks and collective expulsions – often accompanied by violence and intimidation – on the border between EU-member Croatia and Bosnia, without having their asylum claims considered.

Their research was carried out between June 2018 and January 2019.

It said that 94 interviewed refugees and migrants stranded in temporary accommodation in Bosnia nearly all confirmed being returned from Croatia, often multiple times, and after having been held in police stations deep inside Croatia, without due process and without access to asylum procedures.

After the release of the report, Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said Croatia had only prevented illegal migration in accordance with its EU responsibilities.

“The Republic of Croatia as a member state of the European Union has the task of carrying out the protection of the state border and preventing illegal migration,” the minister said on Wednesday, recalling that the Croatian border “is also the external EU border”.

Bozinovic said be believed most of the interviewed migrants had not even entered Croatia, and had at most been subjected to measures of “prevention and discouragement” on the border, referring to Article 13 of the Schengen Border Code.

“The article prescribes that … the border police protects the state border … by means of preventing and discouraging persons from avoiding controls at border crossings,” the minister said.

He insisted that when the Croatian police dealt with migrants, they respected their fundamental rights and dignity and allowed them access to systems of international protection if required.

Amnesty International said around 5,500 women, men and children remain trapped in two towns in Bosnia near the Croatian border, in Bihac and Velika Kladusa, without basic amenities.

“Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot offer them adequate protection or living conditions and the improvised camps are unhygienic, lacking hot water, medical care and sufficient food,” it said.

Anja Vladisavljevic