A visit by Italian members of the European Parliament last Saturday to the border between Croatia and Bosnia to check on living conditions of migrants at the refugee camps in Bihac "was nothing other than the umpteenth provocation against Croatian police" and "an attempt to discredit the reputation" of the country, said Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic on Monday.
Croatia raised its tone and accused Italian members of the European Parliament from the Democratic Party (PD), part of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, of "provocation", following the MEPs' visit last Saturday (January 30) to the border with Bosnia, where they were stopped for several hours.
The MEPs were visiting to check on living conditions of migrants in refugee camps in Bihac.
Zagreb said their visit was "an attempt to discredit the reputation" of the country and spoke of the "umpteenth provocation against Croatian police."
The fiery statements on Monday from Croatian Interior Ministry Davor Bozinovic brought an indignant response from the MEPs, who said they were "surprised".
"We were expecting apologies for having prevented us from doing our work" and "not false accusations."
According to Croatian police, the four MEPs -- Brando Benifei, Pietro Bartolo, Alessandra Moretti and Pierfrancesco Majorino -- didn't present themselves at a regular border crossing, but rather tried to cross the border at one of the points used by migrants to enter Europe through Croatia.
Bozinovic said none of them had a permit "because no possibility exists for issuing permits to cross the borders illegally."
Croatia will take up the matter with the European Parliament, while local police have opened an investigation.
Zagreb said it seems the MEPs' intention was to "hold a performance at the border, given that at the same time the movement of a group of migrants was also noted towards the point where the MEPs would have liked to enter Bosnia."
Response from MEPs
Croatia's accusations were returned to sender by the MEPs. "We have photos, audio and video that prove that we were stopped when we were still far from the border, to prevent our inspection," they said, adding that they informed Croatian authorities of their visit "with sufficient advance notice."
Benifei, Bartolo, Moretti and Majorino recalled that they had received confirmation that they would be able to go to see what was happening at the border.
"Accusing someone, even more so accusing members of the European Parliament, of trying to commit illegal acts without any proof, in any democratic country could be material for a criminal action against those who say it," the MEPs said, calling the situation "shameful".
While they await "official apologies, an investigation into what happened will be requested by the European authorities."
This political tension with bellicose tones opens a glimpse into the drama of refugees crowded in the camp in "inhumane" conditions, said Benifei, adding that as MEPs "we have a duty to check what happens at the borders."