April the 19th, 2023 – In this edition of How to Croatia, I’m going to take you through what you need to do when it comes to applying for and (hopefully) being granted Croatian international protection. This status afford the holder certain rights, so let’s delve deeper.
First of all, what is Croatian international protection?
Croatian national protection doesn’t really differ all that much from international protection offered by the vast majority of European countries. It is designed to safeguard the rights of refugees and other such groups and individuals who are fleeing war, persecution or unrest. It gives the holder the right to remain in a country without the threat of deportation/repatriation, and seek and be given asylum on the basis of non-refoulement.
What are the specifics of Croatian international protection?
In the Republic of Croatia, an individual seeking international protection is considered an applicant as soon as they express their clear intention to apply for said status officially. They are considered an applicant until a decision is formally reached by the competent ministry on their application. The ministry which makes these decisions is the same one which deals with all immigration, residence and citizenship affairs – the Ministry of the Interior (MUP). MUP deals with Croatian international protection applications on the basis of what are known as first instance proceedings, after which an administrative dispute can be brought against the ministry’s decision in court should the applicant want to appeal a negative response.
What’s the difference between seeking international asylum in Croatia and simply entering the country illegally?
While some would argue that there are little to no differences, there are. A person arriving in Croatia illegally who then states their intention to apply for international protection will not face any sort of punishment by the Croatian authorities. However, this is only the case when the said individual has arrived in the country directly from the area they’re fleeing from because there is a genuine risk to their wellbeing or life should they be forced to return to their country of origin. They also need to have justified reasoning for their illegal entry, and should that be accepted, they then must apply for Croatian international protection as soon as possible after having arrived.
It is important to note that the individual in question’s suffering, persecution or threat to their wellbeing or life must fall within what the Geneva Convention considers said situations to be.
How is an application for Croatian international protection lodged with the authorities?
Upon arriving at the Croatian border, an individual seeking Croatian international protection can make their intentions known to the border police. It can also be lodged at the following locations:
At any administrative police station
At any police station which may or not may otherwise deal with administrative issues
at an Asylum Seeker’s Reception Centre
What rights are afforded to those who are granted Croatian international protection?
Upon expressing their intention to apply for international protection, an applicant is permitted to stay in the country until a decision is officially reached by MUP. After the application is completed, the applicant will be given a special card which will serve as proof of their status in the country.
The procedure for international protection will see the applicant and their family members (if applicable) housed in an Asylum Seeker’s Centre. Their family members are also entitled to remain in Croatia if the individual who applies for international protection is granted that status. During their stay in the aforementioned centre, their needs will be provided for, this includes: food, drink, hygiene products, toiletries, healthcare, financial aid (in some cases, see caveats below for more information), Croatian language classes and more. This even extends to sport and other activities.
What are those who are granted Croatian international protection entitled to?
Those who are successful in being granted international protection in Croatia have certain rules that they must follow in order to be afforded the rights this status provides them with, so I’ll go through them first. If a person is granted asylum, they must respect Croatian law and the Croatian Constitution, undergo a medical examination, agree to have their identity checked and confirmed, they must fully cooperate with what the government and the authorities ask of them, follow the rules of the centre they’re being temporarily housed in, present themselves when the ministry asks them for interviews, report any changes to their address after leaving the centre. They must also not leave Croatia while their request for international protection is being decided upon. This can, in some cases, also refer to their movement within Croatian borders. If any limits on movement have been imposed for whatever reason, they must not break those rules.
Once a person has been granted Croatian international protection, they are free to do the following:
They are free to practice their religion as they wish (within the boundaries of the law).
They are entitled to access public healthcare on the same basis as a Croatian national or resident.
They can access legal counselling due to their situation.
Should children be involved, primary and secondary education is given on the same basis as it is given to other children in Croatia. Said children can also be appointed a trained guardian.
They can have the procedures surrounding their asylum application and status dealt with and expressed to them in a language of their choice.
If a formal decision on their application for international protection hasn’t been reached by MUP within nine months of their application, an asylum seeker is entitled to take up lawful work. This can only occur if the delay in MUP giving a decision in response to their application isn’t their fault.
As MUP explains, if applicants for Croatian international protection already earn an income which exceeds the Croatian minimum wage, they will not receive the aforementioned financial aid and will be expected to cover their expenses during the time spent at the Asylum Seeker’s Centre themselves, either partially or entirely depending on the situation at hand.
Financial aid will also not be provided to those who are employed and have sufficient income to allow a fair standard of living.
If an applicant has the financial means, they are free to live at any address in Croatia instead of the aforementioned centre at their own expense. This can only be done after being given explicit permission from MUP to do so.
For more on moving to, living in and travelling in Croatia, make sure to keep up with our dedicated lifestyle section. An article tackling anything from a specific administrative issue to tips on renting a car or bringing your pet into the country is published every Wednesday as part of our How to Croatia series.