Croatian border policemen at Maljevac border crossing with Bosnia as a group of migrants attempt to cross into Croatia. PHOTO/ARCHIVE/EPA/FEHIM DEMIR
Croatian border policemen at Maljevac border crossing with Bosnia as a group of migrants attempt to cross into Croatia. PHOTO/ARCHIVE/EPA/FEHIM DEMIR

Human Rights Watch has denounced that migrants in Croatia are pushed back to Bosnia by police officers who don't give them the possibility of applying for asylum.

Croatian police are ''pushing migrants and asylum seekers back to Bosnia and Herzegovina, in some cases violently, and without giving them the possibility to seek asylum," Human Rights Watch said. The organization interviewed 20 people, including 11 heads of families and one unaccompanied boy, who said that Croatian police deported them to Bosnia and Herzegovina without due process after detaining them in Croatia. 

Sixteen, including women and children, said police beat them with batons, kicked and punched them, stole their money and either stole or destroyed their mobile phones, Human Rights Watch said. 

Migrants denounce abuse 

''Croatia has an obligation to protect asylum seekers and migrants,'' said Lydia Gall, Balkans and Eastern EU researcher at Human Rights Watch. ''Instead, the Croatian police viciously beat asylum seekers and pushed them back over the border." 

The 20 migrants gave detailed accounts of being detained by people who either identified themselves as Croatian police or wore uniforms matching those worn by Croatian police. Seventeen gave consistent descriptions of the police vans used to transport them to the border, the organization said. One mother and daughter were transported in what they described as a police car. Two people said that police had fired shots in the air, and five said that the police were wearing masks.''These findings confirm mounting evidence of abuse at Croatia's external borders'', Human Rights Watch said. 

'EU Commission must start procedure against Croatia' 

HRW noted that the summary return of asylum seekers without consideration of their protection needs is contrary to European Union asylum law, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the 1951 Refugee Convention. Croatian authorities ''should conduct thorough and transparent investigations of abuse implicating their officials and hold those responsible to account'', Human Rights Watch said. ''They should ensure full cooperation with the Ombudswoman's inquiry, as required by national law and best practice for independent human rights institutions." 

Moreover, the organization noted, ''the European Commission should call on Croatia, an EU member state, to halt and investigate summary returns of asylum seekers to Bosnia and Herzegovina and allegations of violence against asylum seekers. The Commission should also open legal proceedings against Croatia for violating EU laws," Human Rights Watch said. ''Just because the EU is sending humanitarian aid to refugees in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that does not justify turning a blind eye to violence at the Croatian border," Gall said. ''Brussels should press Zagreb to comply with EU law, investigate alleged abuse, and provide fair and efficient access to asylum''.

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