An Afghan family in Bosnia near the Croatian border in December 2020 | Photo: Marc Sanye/AP Photo/picture-alliance
An Afghan family in Bosnia near the Croatian border in December 2020 | Photo: Marc Sanye/AP Photo/picture-alliance

Croatian border authorities are systemically pushing back potential asylum seekers, reports from several European media outlets have confirmed. Six pushbacks to Bosnia were captured on video. Among those forced across the border were a pregnant woman, disabled persons and small children.

An investigation conducted by several European media outlets has captured several illegal pushbacks at the hands of Croatian police. This confirms accusations that migrants, refugees and human rights organizations have long leveled at Croatia: That the European Union (EU) member country is forcing migrants and refugees to cross back into Bosnia, without giving them the chance to ask for asylum.

Reporters from the Swiss news program SRF Rundschau, the Vienna office of German public broadcaster ARD, Lighthouse Reports, German news magazine Der Spiegel and Croatian newspaper Novosti reportedly captured footage showing six pushbacks of a total of about 65 migrants and refugees from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina within one week in late May. Among the migrants and refugees pushed were about 20 children. Many of them were from Afghanistan.

The reporters examined one relatively small area at the Bosnian-Croatian border, which is nearly 1,000 kilometers long. Therefore, the number of people pushed from Croatia within per week is likely much higher than 65.

Pregnant woman, children pushed back

Steffen Lüdke -- a reporter for Der Spiegel -- said on Twitter that their video showed "how Croatian police officers push back even pregnant women, babies, elderly men on crutches in illegal operations at the border to Bosnia."

A report published by German news program "Tagesschau" on Wednesday (June 23) includes the account of a highly pregnant woman. She told reporters that she was among a group apprehended by police near Zagreb, the Croatian capital, located several dozens of kilometers from the Bosnian border. The woman and her companions told reporters that instead of bringing her to a hospital, police took their cellphones, power banks and money, and brought them back to the border.

In a video report released by Der Spiegel on Wednesday, people who were pushed back told reporters that police destroyed their cellphone cameras to ensure they could not film the pushback. The video shows two people holding cellphones with cracked and damaged glass across the main camera. 

"We are like animals to them [the Croatian police]," a young Afghan man says in the video.

The same man told reporters for SRF Rundschau that he had asked to apply for asylum, but Croatian officials had told him to go back to Bosnia. When he was pushed back, the man was reportedly with his family, among them his severely disabled seven-year-old nephew. The man told reporters his family was trying to reach Germany to secure adequate medical care for the boy.

Croatian interior ministry: Legally denied entry

The Croatian interior ministry told Tagesschau and its media partners that the videos showed authorities legally denying people entry into the country, that this did not require an assessment of the needs of migrants. 

However, the migrants and refugees reporters talked to said they had not been apprehended at or near the border, but rather further inside Croatia -- which would make the forced border crossing captured on camera illegal.

EU law and the Geneva refugee convention mandate that people must be given the chance to ask for asylum. In other words, people who might have the right to international protection cannot be simply be pushed back across the border; their cases must be examined.


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