ZAGREB, March 15, 2019 – Croatian non-governmental organisations the Centre for Peace Studies (CMS) and Are You Syrious (AYS) issued a joint statement on Thursday drawing attention to three dangerous aspects of Croatian police behaviour: dehumanisation, torture and humiliation of refugees, rhetorical legalisation of violence, and discrediting organisations that warn of such actions.
The statement was prompted by Interior Minister Davor Božinović’s response to the international human right watchdog Amnesty International’s report on violence and abuse experienced by refugees and migrants along the Balkan route.
Božinović said in his response that Croatia was successfully controlling and protecting its border in line with international and national law and that his ministry’s priority was to ensure legal and sustainable migration in cooperation with neighbouring countries for the purpose of maintaining security.
The CMS and AYS accused Božinović of selectively interpreting legal provisions in an attempt to give the impression that police actions are legal when in fact they violate basic human rights.
“The Ministry of the Interior is actively trying to silence citizens who question the legality of some of the police actions, portraying the CMS and AYS as organisations associated with illegal migration,” the two NGOs said in their statement.
“After footage from Border Violence Monitoring clearly showed Croatian police driving refugees away from Croatia, pushing around exhausted individuals, or footage of Croatian police forcing refugees on their knees to chant ‘Dinamo Zagreb!’ and ‘For the homeland ready!’, and after numerous medical documents about fractures and serious injuries suffered by refugees during their encounters with police truncheons on the border, it is unacceptable and utterly disgusting to claim that Croatian police do not use force and power against them,” the statement said.
Commenting on Božinović’s statement that all of the 202 complaints of violations of refugees’ human rights received by the ministry were unfounded, the two NGOs said that they themselves had made some of those complaints, categorically stating that their complaints contained precise information on the times and places where Croatian police found refugees and expelled them by force back to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The CMS and AYS noted that Croatia had so far been criticised by four international organisations over violent expulsions of refugees and migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina, namely by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Human Rights Watch, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, and most recently by Amnesty International. They also recalled criticisms made at a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg late last year.
The international organisations reported thousands of documented cases of illegal expulsions of refugees and migrants from Croatia since 2016. The UNHCR said that last year at least 5,537 persons were forcibly returned to Serbia, while according to some indicators the number of illegal expulsions to Bosnia and Herzegovina could be twice as high, the CMS and AYS said.
More news on the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.