Hundreds of migrants march from Belgrade to the Croatian border on the highway Belgrade-Zagreb near Pecinci 50km from Belgrade, Serbia, 12 November 2016. EPA/KOCA SULEJMANOVIC
Hundreds of migrants march from Belgrade to the Croatian border on the highway Belgrade-Zagreb near Pecinci 50km from Belgrade, Serbia, 12 November 2016. EPA/KOCA SULEJMANOVIC

The UNHCR reports that thousands of migrants have been pushed back from Croatia this year or denied the possibility of requesting asylum in the country, an accusation that the Croatian government has rejected.

About 2,500 migrants trying to reach Western Europe have been pushed back by Croatia since the beginning of the year, including about 1,500 who have been denied the right to request asylum and international protection, according to a UNHCR report entitled Desperate Journeys. The accusation has been firmly rejected by the Croatia interior ministry. 


Migrants report assault, robbery and violence by police 

Among the migrants pushed back by Croatia were about 100 children and 700 adults who said that they had suffered violence or theft of their belongings. The report includes data collected mostly through direct contact with migrants who had tried this year to use the Balkan route to Western Europe, which through Albania or Serbia leads to Croatia, Hungary or Slovenia. Some have reported attacks or theft by local gangs or smugglers and others say that police were the perpetrators. 

UNHCR said that 26 people died trying to cross borders in Balkan countries since January in 22 separate incidents, 12 of whom drowned in the rivers on the border between Croatia and Slovenia. The Croatian interior ministry said that all UNHCR reports were taken seriously and looked into but that all of the accusations were baseless. Croatian police say that most of the reports were by anonymous individuals without any indication of where or when, some of which were then published in international media, but were thus difficult to verify. 

The Croatian ministry noted that it had received 1,887 asylum requests in 2017 and another 646 this year as of August - numbers that, it said, show that the country does not systematically and illegally push back migrants. 

Croatian PM rejects charges against the police 

Last week, Croatian PM Andrej Plenkovic rejected accusations that police in the country engaged in abuse and violence against migrants on the borders, saying that Croatia has a role defending the EU's external borders and in so doing prevent another serious migration crisis like one seen in 2015. In an interview with the German daily Die Welt, reprinted by Croatian media, Plenkovic said that Croatian police simply implements national and European regulation, including the Schengen code and the Dublin regulation. 

Numerous migrants pushed back in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and several NGOs have repeatedly spoken out about violent and brutal methods used against them by Croatian police.
 

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