ZAGREB, February 28, 2018 – The Are You Syrious (AYS) and Centre for Peace Studies (CMS) non-governmental organisations on Wednesday released their fourth report on refugees and warned that Croatia has continued with its practice of expulsion, unlawful behaviour and sporadic violence against refugees who have tried to seek international protection in Croatia.
Last year, the two NGOs alerted the Interior Ministry and the State Prosecutor’s Office (DORH) of such incidents, but they did not react or their reaction was limited. The situation changed, however, at the beginning of this year when the human rights ombudswoman sent a letter to DORH presenting a series of claims of unlawful procedures by the police, Julija Kranjec from CMS told a press conference.
The ombudswoman’s report shows that those were not isolated cases but systematic and planned measures of denying access to international protection, deprivation of liberty without legal grounds and disregard for the principle that they should not be turned back.
The NGOs are also concerned that thermal-vision camera recordings do not exist for those times when the unlawful incidents were reported to have occurred. The latest report notes that these incidents are occurring on the Bosnia and Herzegovina border too and that not even vulnerable people are exempt from this type of behaviour.
Kranjec said that police treatment toward refugees in Croatia has changed for those arriving as part of the resettlement quotas but, she added, that should not exclude all people who need protection.
Tatjana Tadić from AYS said that in 2017 the UNHCR in Serbia recorded 3,242 cases of unlawful expulsion of refugees from Croatia and that many of them claimed that they were not allowed to seek international protection and that they were regularly abused. Data for January 2018 indicates 189 newly documented cases of expulsion.
The NGOs claim there are growing indications that the police are covering up verbal and physical violence against refugees.
Referring to a recent statement by Interior Minister Davor Božinović that the first requirement for asylum is legal entry into Croatia, the NGOs underscored that according to international and domestic law, any person in Croatia, regardless of how they crossed the border, has the right to apply for asylum, which then needs to be processed by expert bodies and not arbitrarily by border police.
The NGOs called on the Interior Ministry and the Police Directorate to immediately withdraw orders that generate unlawful police behaviour and called on border police not to follow such orders as they are exposing themselves to possible prosecution.
They also called on DORH to investigate the claims made by the human rights ombudswoman regarding unlawful police behaviour and on Prime Minister Andrej Plenković to distance himself from this type of police behaviour.