Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 December 2019

Calls for Croatia to immediately stop using force to return migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Human Rights Watch has sent an open letter to President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic urging for an investigation

A group of Asian migrants are seen while marching on a dirt road, while attempting to illegally cross into Croatia via Pljesevica mountain, near Northern-Bosnian town of Bihac. AFP
A group of Asian migrants are seen while marching on a dirt road, while attempting to illegally cross into Croatia via Pljesevica mountain, near Northern-Bosnian town of Bihac. AFP

Croatia should immediately stop summarily returning migrants and asylum seekers to Bosnia and Herzegovina, in some cases with force, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

In an open letter to President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, HRW is calling for Croatian authorities to investigate the issue and to hold those responsible for any unlawful action to account.

It comes after President Grabar-Kitarovic's recent admission in an interview on Swiss television that Croatian officials have used force to remove migrants.

Human rights organisations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Council of Europe (COE), have raised concerns but previously Croatian authorities have denied the allegations.

“Zagreb needs to put an end to unlawful pushbacks and violence against migrants at its borders,” said Lydia Gall, senior researcher for Balkans and the Eastern European Union (EU) at Human Rights Watch.

“Croatian border officials have mistreated hundreds, perhaps thousands, of migrants and asylum seekers, who deserve redress and justice.”

Human Rights Watch found in a December 2018 report that Croatian border officials apprehend migrants far inside Croatian territory, and without due process push them back into Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It alleged that in some cases force is used and claims people are assaulted and forced to cross freezing streams.

In a separate May 20 meeting with the Interior Ministry, the state secretary said that the people Human Rights Watch interviewed had fabricated their accounts and accused activists of impersonating Croatian police officers to make them look bad.

“The denial of Croatia’s abusive border policies by Zagreb and EU institutions is no longer tenable,” Gall said.

“The European Commission needs to protect EU law and fundamental rights at external borders by opening infringement proceedings against Croatia and calling on authorities to investigate alleged abuse and provide fair and efficient access to asylum.”

As a result of the 2016 border closures on the Western Balkan route, thousands of asylum seekers were stranded, the majority in Serbia, and found new routes toward the EU.

In 2018, migrant and asylum seeker arrivals increased in Bosnia and Herzegovina, from fewer than 1,000 in 2017 to approximately 22,400, according to the European Commission.

The Commission estimates 6,000 migrants and asylum seekers are currently in the country.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has granted international protection to only 17 people since 2008. In 2017, 381 people applied for asylum there.

The summary return of asylum seekers without consideration of their protection needs is contrary to EU asylum law, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Updated: July 15, 2019 07:50 PM

SHARE

SHARE