In the past there were no reports of refoulement or push backs at the border. However, with the refugee crisis which started in September 2015, in November 2015 a new practice of separation of migrants who were not coming from war-torn countries has been introduced but only for a few days, so one can assume that there could had been a risk of a breach of the principle of non-refoulement. On the other side, during 2015 and since the begging of the crisis in September 2015, there were only a few intentions expressed to apply for international protection in Croatia, as the majority of persons have given up and decided not to apply for international protection.
During 2016 no border monitoring projects were implemented in Croatia i.e only UNHCR carried out border visits under its mandate. According to the information provided to ECRE at the end of November 2016, UNHCR was able to carry out 3 border monitoring activities in 2016. No unlawful practices have been identified by UNHCR through these activities but, according to the representatives of UNHCR who met with the ECRE delegation, it was considered likely that persons have been sent back from Croatia without having had the chance of applying for international protection. However, without further investigations and additional information on the individual cases, no final conclusions could be drawn as to whether these allegations could be corroborated by evidence or not, nor the scale of such practices. Therefore, it was considered of the utmost importance to resume systematic border monitoring activities in 2017 so as to ensure that non-refoulement obligations are fully complied with.1
In January 2017, civil society organisations Are You Syrious? and Initiative “Welcome” reported that illegal and violent expulsions (push backs) from the territory of Croatia are happening.2 According to their report, people from Afghanistan, but also from Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and other countries, were not given access to asylum procedure, although some explicitly and repeatedly approached the Croatian police, expressing their wish to ask for international protection. Instead they were, according to the report, illegally expelled to Serbia from Croatian territory.3 The report stresses that this was accompanied by violence and degrading treatment by the Croatian police. Similar concerns were raised by Human Rights Watch and Save the Children in the same period.4
According to the Ministry of Interior,5 during 2016, 2,234 intentions to seek protection in Croatia were expressed, but only small number of intentions were expressed during border control on the border crossing with Serbia i.e. only 5 at the Border Police Station of Bajakovo. In addition, at the Police Station of Tovarnik, which is also near the Croatian-Serbian border, only 1 intention to seek international protection was expressed in 2016. Data shows that on the territory of Croatia near Serbia, i.e. in Slavonia, an additional 5 intentions were expressed at the Police Administration of Osječko-Baranjska, 5 at the Police Station of Ilok, 11 at the Police Station of Donji Miholjac, 2 at the Police Station of Osijek and 3 in the first Police Station of Osijek.
In order to strengthen professional capacities of the border police force with regard to the sensitive mixed migration flows border management, within the project funded by UNHCR, the Croatian Law Centre in cooperation with Ministry of Interior and UNHCR organised and held three workshops for border officials (for land border police officers, for airport police officers and for maritime police officers) in 2016, at the Police Academy in Zagreb. The topics included: an introduction to a basic human rights; international standard of asylum protection; access to international protection; novelties in the system of international protection under the LITP; and a practical workshop on irregular migration and return.
- 1. ECRE, Balkan route reversed: The return of asylum seekers to Croatia under the Dublin system, December 2016, available at: http://bit.ly/2kueKpB.
- 2. Welcome and Are You Syrious, Report on illegal and violent expulsions of refugees from the territory of Republic of Croatia, 24 January 2017, available in Croatian at: http://bit.ly/2kXQ3Vy.
- 3. Ibid, 2.
- 4. Human Rights Watch, ‘Croatia: Asylum seekers forced back to Serbia’, 20 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2k9cLej; Save the Children, ‘Refugee and migrant children injured in illegal border push-backs across Balkans’, 24 January 2017, available at: http://bit.ly/2jH4a2I.
- 5. Information provided by the Ministry of Interior, 2 March 2017.