The Serbian Commissariat for Refugees and Migration confirmed that it has numerous reports of Croatian border police resorting to violence against migrants who enter the country illegally. In one case, an underage Afghan migrant even reported being "tortured by the police" with electric shocks. Croatian authorities meanwhile reject the charges.
Migrants living in Serbia have been trying to enter the European Union through Croatia ever since the Hungarian government closed its border with Serbia almost four years ago. However, those who have attempted to cross the Serbian-Croatian border often claim that they were not offered any opportunity to apply for asylum once they reached Croatia and that instead they were pushed back into Serbia by violent Croatian officials.
Zia Rahman, an Afghan migrant presently stuck in Serbia, says he has personally been subjected to violence by Croatian border forces:
"The Croatian police know no mercy. They are incredibly violent," he told InfoMigrants. "I was beaten, pepper-sprayed on my face, and knocked unconscious as they took me back (to Serbia).
Noor Mohammad, another young Afghan migrant said that he was also "punched and kicked" by Croatian officials before being sent back to Serbia. Mohammad, who has been staying at the Adasevci migrant reception center near the Croatian border for a month, has tried to go into Croatia eleven times.
Most of the asylum seekers we spoke with at the reception center claimed that the Croatian police did not give them the opportunity to apply for asylum before "forcibly" deporting them back to Serbia after "taking their money and breaking their phones" in a bid to stop them from having the means to try to cross the border irregularly again.
Blame game between Serbia and Croatia
Serbia's refugee and migrant agency has meanwhile also accused Croatian border police of torturing a 16-year-old Afghan migrant after denying him and 15 other migrants traveling with him their right to claim asylum in the European Union. The agency claims that last month, the Croatian police inflicted "physical and psychological torture" on the 16-year-old migrant, including beatings and electrocution. They further allege that this maltreatment resulted in his suffering several fractured ribs and causing internal bleeding.
Serbia has repeatedly criticized Croatia's treatment of asylum seekers in the past, gaining increasing support from various rights groups and international bodies including the UN refugee agency UNHCR. However, these accusations of torture have been viewed as uncharacteristically direct.
Croatia's interior ministry has meanwhile dismissed the accusations as "unfounded and ... absolutely incomprehensible" claiming that Serbia was spreading falsehoods in order to protect its own borders against irregular migrants.
When asked about the torture accusations, Croatia's interior ministry said it was not aware of this specific case: "The allegations of torture of migrants are absolutely incomprehensible and have no real basis. We consider this to be another in a series of unfounded and substantially unsupported allegations against the Croatian police due to its persistence and determination in protecting the state border and the external borders of the European Union," the ministry said in a statement on its website last week.
InfoMigrants spoke to the alleged torture victim at one of the reception centers in Serbia. The teenage asylum seeker repeated the claims to InfoMigrants reporters. Since he is underage he was not allowed to be photographed or filmed.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Serbia says it has launched an investigation into migrants suffering violence at the hands of Serbia's neighbors in the past two years.
Hans Friedrich Schoder, UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Serbia, said that hundreds of cases have been collected so far and "handed over to the authorities for investigation. ... Some cases have been submitted to courts. We are working to ensure that immigrants can still file their asylum applications and also that they are not subjected to any form of physical harm," he said.
According to UNHCR statistics, more than 40% of almost 3,000 migrants and refugees in Serbia come from Afghanistan. Most of them hope to enter Hungary or Croatia to get into the EU. However, with Hungary's border closed and the Croatian border being closely monitored, leaving Serbia is proving to be a difficult task.