ZAGREB, July 28, 2018 – Interior Minister Davor Božinović has told Hina that, because of the best police work in this part of Europe, Croatia can persevere in the desire to stay an open country without barriers and barbed wire, with empathy for refugees in their need for protection as well as with the determination to put the interests of its citizens first.
Asked about the divisions in European political structures concerning migrants, Božinović said they were mainly overcome with European Council conclusions of June 28. Until then, notably just before Austria took over the Council of the European Union presidency, there were announcements that the army would protect Austria’s borders and that Germany would close its borders because of the new migrant flow through Bosnia and Herzegovina and to prevent a new migrant crisis, Božinović said. He added that he had resolved with his Austrian counterpart Herbert Kickl all doubts concerning the surveillance of the Croatian border.
As part of preparations to enter the Schengen Area, Croatia is building its police capacities, including the border police. Croatian police can respond to the stronger migrant pressure of recent months, yet this pressure is far below the crisis levels in 2015-18, Božinović said.
Reaching agreement on a comprehensive European approach to migration at the European Council meeting established a new paradigm and agreement was possible because of significant political changes in Italy, Austria and Germany, he said.
Agreement was possible because everyone realised that dealing with the migrant issue would either additionally unite or fully divide the EU. For the first time, in responding to the migration challenge, the EU is putting equal emphasis on the external and internal aspects as well as better protection of the external borders, Božinović said.
The external aspect refers to bolstering cooperation with the states in North Africa, Sahel, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, which are countries of origin and transit of migrants. The internal aspect provides for further negotiations on reforming the common European asylum system, and the protection of the EU’s external borders is crucial, he added.
He said the European Council conclusions were fully in line with Croatia’s migration policy – legal, controlled and sustainable migration. That entails protecting the border from illegal crossings, supporting the relocation policy as a legal way of arriving in Europe, solidarity with refugees’ need for international protection, but to an extent that will not overload our reception, administration and other capacities for their successful integration into our society, Božinović said.
We have decided independently, in line with Croatia’s interests, to remain an open country without barriers and barbed wire, empathetic with refugees in real need of protection, but which does not allow illegal migration and stops traffickers, he added.
We are keeping in mind that many Croatian citizens were refugees not long ago but we are determined to put the security of Croatia and its citizens first, resolutely protecting the border and not allowing economic migrants to bring into question our security, the security of the EU and the Schengen Area with illegal crossings and secondary movement and by abusing the asylum system, Božinović said.
Asked if Croatia could receive concrete assistance from friendly countries in protecting its borders, he said a European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) plane was helping as of last Wednesday to control Croatia’s land and sea border with Bosnia, Montenegro and Italy. Croatia was also allocated 10.4 million euro for the technical protection of the green border with Bosnia and Montenegro, he added.
In the context of Southeast Europe, negotiations have been intensified to conclude agreements which will facilitate deploying Frontex staff on Croatia’s southern borders. Given the new migrant route which opened in Bosnia early this year, Bosnia has been allocated 1.5 million euro in assistance, Božinović said.
The Commission and the European External Action Service have launched political dialogue on the visa policy as some of Croatia’s southern neighbours, by liberalising the visa regime with some Middle East and African countries, have directly encouraged stronger migration towards Croatia and other EU member states. This serves traffickers and contributes to stronger secondary movements around the EU, mainly by economic migrants who are not entitled to international protection, he added.
Asked if there were any concrete results regarding Croatia’s position that other states must be more active in preventing illegal migration along the Balkan route, Božinović said the matter was included in the European Council conclusions from June. He said he had talked, before the conclusions were adopted, with the Bosnian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Albanian and Serbian interior ministers about the contribution they could make to the protection of the external borders by investing in border police, exchanging information, building reception centres, transposing the acquis concerning asylum, implementing readmission agreements and aligning their visa policies with the EU’s common external and security policy.
Those are commitments they have undertaken as membership candidates or potential candidates in their stabilisation and association agreements and benchmarks they must meet as part of the accession negotiations. Better cooperation concerning security and migration is one of six priority areas of cooperation with SE European countries under the enlargement policy the Commission presented in February, Božinović said, adding that cooperation in that area is in the common interest of Croatia, those countries and the EU.
By protecting its border, Croatia is protecting one of the longest EU external borders, but Croatia’s responsibility in the protection of EU borders should be considered in the wider context. That’s why we informed European commissioners, Frontex’ executive director, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, France and the UK about the need for stronger political, technical and financial assistance to Croatia’s neighbours as well as the fact that Croatia’s Schengen membership would contribute to EU security, Božinović said.
Asked when Croatia could join the Schengen area, he said he would rather not speculate but that he hoped Croatia would meet all the requirements by the end of this year. After that, additional efforts will be necessary to assure every member state that Croatia is a reliable partner, he added.
Božinović went on to say that Croatia had procured 30 million euro worth of fire-fighting vehicles and communication equipment, recalling that it was part of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism since 2008. From 2007 to 2017, Croatia’s civil protection service helped seven countries 17 times with 1,121 flights in which our Canadair planes and pilots were engaged for 360 hours, he added.
Croatia will contribute to its resistance to disasters also through the establishment of the RescEU mechanism which will facilitate a coordinated European response if national capacities are not enough in case of a disaster, the minister said.
He also recalled that 89 foreign police officers from 18 countries were helping Croatian police with tourists along the coastal resorts this summer, including, for the first time, from China.