Serbian Civil Society Activists Accuse Croatian Police of Brutality Towards Migrants

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Vladan Jeremić, the Foundation’s representative for Southeast Europe, said that collective expulsions, abuse and arbitrary arrests had been going on at the Serbian-Croatian border since 2016 despite the efforts by civil society organisation to prevent such things from happening.

Croatia denies accusations of inhumane treatment of migrants.

Jeremić said that the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, which is close to the German leftwing party Die Linke, supported the report by Nikola Kovačević documenting human rights abuses on the Serbian-Croatian border. Its aim is to provide civil society organisations with guidance on how to document and legally oppose unlawful practices along the border between Serbia and Croatia.

Violent behaviour is not happening in cooperation with the Serbian police, but away from border crossing points, with migrants being beaten up, humiliated, dispossessed of their valuables, and threatened at gun point, said Milica Švabić of the Belgrade-based KlikAtiv Centre for Development of Social Policies.

She said that about 1,700 people are currently staying in three official migrant camps at the western town of Šid, while an estimated 4,000, including families and unaccompanied minors, are staying in abandoned buildings and in tents in the woods in the surrounding area. They are trying to cross the border almost every day, running the risk of violent push-backs.

The practice of illegal and violent push-backs of refugees from Croatia is still ongoing on a daily basis, Švabić said.

Although they are also being expelled from Hungary and Romania, refugees claim that the Croatian police is the most brutal in push-backs, Švabić said, adding that the refugees who have been expelled by the Croatian police regularly report having been beaten with truncheons and rifle-butts and many have suffered serious injuries, including fractures and head injuries.

Ana Ćuća from the Zagreb-based Centre for Peace Studies said that Croatia has used systematic violence against migrants since 2016, seizing their personal belongings and mobile phones, beating them, confining them in basements, and allowing police dogs to attack them.

Victims are not just adults, but children too. These are not individual cases, but orders from the political leadership, which often cannot be avoided, Ćuća said.

She said that civil society activists in Croatia are victims of police intimidation because they draw attention to human rights violations on the EU border, which, she added, makes the EU responsible too.

Ćuća said that the change in the EU migrant policy has resulted in violence, adding that more and more Croatian police officers are anonymously providing information on the structure of the system of violent and illegal expulsions of refugees.

This policy comes from Brussels and it can be ended only if EU member states and countries suffering the consequences of such a policy demand it.

Kovačević said that victims should get certain compensation for violence they are subjected to, and that those responsible for abuse should be identified and the government should also be held to account.

Kovačević is the recipient of the UNHCR Nansen Award 2021 for helping refugees.

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