June 11, 2020 — Human rights organization Amnesty International claims Croatian police tortured and abused migrants trying to enter the country from neighboring Bosnia and Hercegovina.
The report claims men in black uniforms identical to those worn by Croatian police spent five hours abusing 16 Pakistani and Afghan immigrants, then mocked their injuries by smearing food on them.
Croatia’s allegedly stringent blockade of its external borders with Serbia and Bosnia fuels a steady drumbeat of abuse accusations coming from migrants pushed back across the border.
“The European Union can no longer remain silent and willfully ignore the violence and abuses by Croatian police on its external borders,” Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Europe Office Massimo Moratti said. “Their silence is allowing, and even encouraging, the perpetrators of this abuse to continue without consequences.”
The migrant crisis, which peaked in 2015, lingers in this corner of Europe, albeit smaller. The influx of newcomers reaching Bosnia continues unabated. Officials have mulled putting a border fence between the two countries, although Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenković dismissed the idea.
“I am opposed to erecting wire fences between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. We are two neighboring countries directed to each other and a message like that would not be good,” Plenkovic said recently.
Croatia has the largest external border of any EU member state and has held its position as a gatekeeper to Europe with pride. But Moratti claims the reports of abuse stain not only the country but the entire bloc.
“We expect nothing less than the condemnation of these acts and an independent investigation into reported abuses, as well as the establishment of an effective mechanism to ensure that EU funds are not used to commit torture and unlawful returns,” he said.
The human rights organization shared its report with Croatia’s Interior Ministry, which has yet to respond. The nation’s top cops routinely rebuff any accusations it uses excessive force in protecting its borders.
Amnesty’s report claims about Croatian police captured the 16 immigrants near Plitvice Lakes on May 26. The officers allegedly bound and tortured the migrants, then smeared food on their injuries.
“They did not give us a chance to say anything at all when they caught us,” Tariq, one migrant, told Amnesty International. “They just started hitting us. While I was lying on the ground, they hit my head with the back of a gun and I started bleeding. I tried to protect my head from the blows, but they started kicking me and hitting my arms with metal sticks. I was passing in and out of consciousness the rest of the night.”
The migrants reported between eight and 10 officers wearing Croatian Special Police’s balaclavas and black uniforms fired their guns in the air, then kicked and beat the immigrants with metal sticks or pistol-whipping them. The police then spread condiments — ketchup, mayonnaise, and sugar — onto the men’s hair.
Up to 10 of the migrants suffered serious injuries, including 30-year-old Tariq, who is now wheelchair-bound, with three out of four extremities in casts. Doctors who treated the men reported broken noses, arms and legs, cuts, blunt force traumas, collapsed lungs, and multiple fractures. It will take months for the men to recover, the doctors added.
A laundry list of NGOs and news organizations have reported Croatian officers’ alleged practice of confiscating cell phones and SIM cards, beating then transporting the migrants back across the border with Bosnia and Hercegovina. The interior ministry just as frequently denies any existence of an illegal “pushback” program.
Amir, a migrant from Pakistan, claimed the Croatian officers seemed jovial throughout the ordeal.
“We were already tied, unable to move and humiliated; there was no reason to keep hitting us and torturing us,” he said. “They were taking photos of us with their phones and were singing and laughing.”
After the beatings, the masked men sand “Happy Birthday” around the huddle of migrants. Five hours after the torture began, men allegedly handed the migrants off to the Croatian Border Police, which left the group at an outpost near the border with Bosnia. Those who could walk back to the Miral camp in Velika Kladuša did. NGOs sent for the five who could not move under their own power.