Access to the territory and push backs

Croatia

Country Report: Access to the territory and push backs Last updated: 22/04/22

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In 2021, besides continuation of the spread of COVID-19, the main challenge continued to be a strict border regime that limits access to the territory and to the procedure for international protection in Croatia, raising serious concerns for the protection of human rights of applicants for international protection.

Illegal border practices, push-backs and ill-treatment

Push-back practices reported by national and European NGOs and other actors

Pushback practices persisted throughout 2021 as reported by many organisations such as the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), Are You Serious? (AYS), the Centre for Peace Studies (CPS) and Welcome! Initiative’.[1]

According to the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), 9,114 persons have been pushed back from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in 2021, [2]  including vulnerable categories (UASC, families with children, women) out of which a significant number of individuals were subject to chain refoulement.[3] According to DRC citizens  of following countries were pushed- back:  Pakistan (3613), Afghanistan (3418), Bangladesh (726), Iraq (160), Morocco (151), Eritrea (102), India (87), Turkey (83), Egypt (68), Nepal (66) and others (640). UNHCR data further indicates that 928 persons were pushed back from Croatia to Serbia.[4]

The Ombudsperson for Children reported that 256 children were pushed back in 2021 according to data  provided by the Border Violence Monitoring Network’s. It also reported that older children were victims of physical violence and younger children of psychological violence. Unaccompanied children were taken to police stations where they were often forced to sign a statement claiming to be of legal age. The Ombudsperson for Children  further reported that families with children and unaccompanied children were returned without conducting an individual procedure, thus denying them the right to international protection, even though persons expressed their intention to seek asylum.[5]

In February 2021, a Croatian border police official was accused of sexually abusing an Afghan woman during a search of a group of migrants at the border with Bosnia.[6] The European commission described the incident as a “serious alleged criminal action’’ and urged the Croatian authorities “to thoroughly investigate all allegations, and follow up with relevant actions”. According to a dossier from the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the incident occurred on the night of 15 February, in Croatian territory, a few kilometres from the Bosnian city of Velika Kladuša.

In their monitoring activities, AYS and the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) recorded 2,805 individual victims of illegal expulsion and police violence, collectively expelled into 205 groups, out of which 44 percent of persons explicitly and unsuccessfully sought asylum in Croatia.[7] Some of these cases included children, unaccompanied children, pregnant women and disabled persons. AYS also reported that some families were separated during the expulsion i.e. children would had entered asylum system, while their parents were expelled.

The Centre for Peace Studies (CPS) also reported that push backs practices and denying access to asylum continued in 2021.[8] CPS reported that the practice of denying access to the asylum system and illegal expulsion along with the frequent use of violence are the most problematic aspects in relation to access to the international protection system. In 2021, CPS provided legal support to a person who was prevented from applying for asylum i.e. his expressed intentions to lodge an application were repeatedly ignored during his stay in the Reception Centre for Foreigners in Ježevo (deportation-detention centre). In addition, his attorney was denied access to him and he was forcibly removed from Croatia without access to a legal remedy. The case is pending before ECtHR (see below).[9]

Protection Rights At Borders (PRAB) initiative,[10] which focusses on human rights violations at the EU’s external and internal borders and in particular on the illegal practice of pushbacks, also reported on pushbacks from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina.[11]

Following repeated allegations in previous years, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) organised an ad hoc visit to Croatia in August 2020. Upon publication of the report at the end of 2021, the Croatian Ministry of Interior responded in 2022 the following:

During 2021, the MoI’s Internal Control Department processed 13 cases related to the treatment of migrants by police officers. The actions of the Internal Control Department relate to the preliminary collection of information on events and the collection of evidence of possible disciplinary responsibility of police officers, while other investigations are conducted by specialized services – the criminal police. In connection with the above, disciplinary proceedings have been initiated against 6 police officers – against three for misconduct in the service or outside the service when the reputation of the police is severely damaged – proceedings are underway, while disciplinary proceedings against three police officers have been terminated for non-compliance, negligence, untimely or careless performance of official duties and fines were imposed on them. Criminal investigations in cases from 2021, which have been completed so far (12 cases in total), have not established facts or evidence that would indicate suspicion of committing criminal offences or misdemeanours committed to the detriment of illegal migrants by police officers. However, two procedures are in progress and the decision of competent judicial authorities is pending.[12]

Push-back practices reported by the media

Video evidence of pushbacks from Croatia to Bosnia-Herzegovina were published in June 2021 by a coalition of outlets.[15] Lighthouse Reports further recorded a high-resolution footage of a pushback at the border with Bosnia Herzegovina.[16]  Forensic examination of the video demonstrated that the masked men had equipment and uniforms consistent with the Croatian police’s riot control branch, called the Intervention Police. Three of the four police officers were using a so-called Tonfa, i.e. a baton that is only issued to the Intervention Police. The research team contacted six police officers who wished to remain anonymous and confirmed that “there is no official order which was officially issued by the Ministry of the Interior. However, internally there is an order that migrants found in Croatia must be returned across the green border. Therefore, the police are not guilty of anything as it is their duty to carry out orders.“[17] Following these events, the 14th session of the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights and the Rights of National Minorities was held on 13 October 2021 and the state attorney’s office ordered investigations against police officers. [18]

After the release of the recording in question, the Ombudsperson started her own inquiry into the Ministry of Interior’s actions, calling on the Ministry of the Interior and the State Attorney’s Office to duly inform her on the actions taken as well as their outcomes in line with her mandate as the deputy of the Croatian Parliament for the protection and the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms.[19]

At EU level, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament asked the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen to initiate infringement procedure against Croatia (as well as against Poland and Greece) for violating the right to international protection and the principle of non-refoulement at the EU’s external borders. MEPs stress the need to take all necessary measures to stop the inhumane policy of illegal expulsions. [20]

Reactions from UN bodies and European human rights bodies

This situation at Croatian’s borders has further drawn attention from UN bodies as well as the Council of Europe.

In April 2021, the United Nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina called for urgent action to end violent pushbacks and collective expulsions of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, including minors, along the Croatian border with BiH.[21] UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs, visited Croatia in July 2021. After her stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, she commented on the violent actions of some members of the Croatian border police, but also welcomed the government’s decision to address the growing number of reports by establishing an independent body to monitor the situation.[22]

In August 2020, the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) completed a five-day rapid reaction visit to Croatia to examine the treatment of persons attempting to enter the country and apprehended by the police.[23] The delegation visited several temporary reception centres and informal migrant settlements in north-west Bosnia and Herzegovina, where it interviewed and medically examined many migrants who claimed they were apprehended by Croatian law enforcement officials within the territory of Croatia and forcibly returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Croatia, beside the Reception Centre for Foreigners in Ježevo, the delegation visited the Cetingrad Border Police Station, the Donji Lapac Border Police Station, the Korenica Border Police Station, the Intervention Police Unit of the Karlovac Police Administration (Mali Erjavec).

The preliminary observations of the delegation were presented to the Croatian authorities at the end of the visit. According to the Croatian Ombudsperson, the report on the CPT visit was adopted in November 2020 and the CoE Commissioner for Human Rights urged to Croatia to publish it, as it is common practice for CPT reports to be made public, with very few exceptions.[24]  In October 2021, representatives of the CPT met with officials of the Ministry of Interior led by the Minister and the State Secretary for European and International Affairs inter alia to discuss why Croatia refused to publish the report. According to the procedure of the Council of Europe, the country to which the report refers must express its consent to its publication, which usually takes place within three months of its adoption.[25] The report on the visit to Croatia carried out by CPTfrom 10 to 14 August 2020 was finally published in December 2021.[26]

According to the report there were cooperation difficulties i.e.  the list of establishments provided to the CPT’s delegation concerning the places where foreign nationals may be deprived of their liberty was incomplete, the police officers met in the police establishments visited by the CPT’s delegation were poorly informed about the mandate of the Committee, especially as regards the CPT’s right of access to all documentation containing information relevant to its mandate. The CPT’s delegation visited three temporary reception centres operated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and a variety of informal settlements in the territory of the Una Sana Canton of BiH where it interviewed numerous persons who stated that they had been subject to removal operations from Croatia and received numerous allegations of physical ill-treatment of foreign nationals by Croatian law enforcement officials consisting of slaps, kicks, blows with truncheons and other hard objects  to various parts of their bodies. The alleged ill-treatment had been purportedly inflicted either at the time of their “interception” and de facto detention inside Croatian territory (i.e. ranging from several to fifty kilometres or more from the border) and/or at the moment of their “diversion” (i.e. push-back) across the border with BiH, which often included being held against their will and being transported in a police van to the border. The allegations mainly concerned members of the border police or intervention police officers from the respective county police administration and, to a lesser extent, members of the special police. In a significant number of cases, persons interviewed displayed injuries on their bodies which were assessed by the delegation’s two forensic medical doctors as compatible with their allegations of having been ill-treated by Croatian law enforcement officials

A number of persons met by the CPT’s delegation complained that, in addition to physical abuse, they had been subjected to other forms of severe ill-treatment by police officers when apprehended and pushed back. Such treatment consisted of police officers firing bullets close to their bodies while they lay on the ground, being thrown in river with their hands still zip-locked, being forced to march through the forest and being pushed back without shoes and wearing only their underwear and, in some cases, even fully naked.“

The CPT also stated that the manner and conditions of transportation of migrants from the place of apprehension to the border with BiH are also a source of concern as they may in some cases amount to ill-treatment. The delegation received numerous allegations of migrants being transported with their hands cuffed in zip-locks in front in cramped conditions with several of them forced to stand due to the lack of space. Further, the standard deportation vans were not equipped with security belts or hand grips. Numerous allegations were received of reckless driving by police officers causing injuries to migrants, as well as episodes of nausea and vomiting.

The delegation also received a number of allegations that the Croatian police had denied requests from persons seeking asylum and that they had not provided emergency medical assistance to vulnerable individuals such as families with children and women.

The Ministry of Interior reacted  to the publication of the CPT Report and stressed that the Ministry of the Interior had not agreed to the publication; and that the decision to publish report was made unilaterally by the Committee.[27]  The Ministry also stressed that the CPT based its report on unverifiable information from Bosnia and Herzegovina and exceeded its mandate.

In March 2022, the CPT published the response of the authorities to the report on the Committee’s ad hoc visit to Croatia.[28] In relation to the fulfilment of recommendations formulated by the CPT report, some of the authorities’ responses included the following:

  • The Ministry of Interior reported that, on 2 December 2021, “the General Police Directorate of the Ministry of Interior sent a letter to police administrations and stations familiarising police officers once again with the CPT’s mandate in the part regarding immigration administrative detention and other actions towards foreign nationals.”
  • Regarding the CPT’s recommendation that individuals must be accorded the fundamental safeguards against ill-treatment the Ministry of Interior argued that “just because a person was transported in a police vehicle or because of any other treatment of a person by the police, it cannot be assumed that the freedom of movement of the person is restricted. The Croatian police often transports various categories of persons (Croatian and foreign nationals, migrants) in police vehicles and according to such a provision, for foreigners who are legally staying, the transport would also represent detention by the police – which is not true, nor is it really the case. Injured and pregnant migrants are transported to hospitals, migrants who expressed the intention to apply for international protection are transported to reception centres, unaccompanied minors are transported to initial medical examinations and in institutions for children, while migrants who were found on the streets or who registered with the police to express the intention for applying for international protection or for any other reason, are transported to a police station for identity verification and collecting information, which does not always imply that they have all been detained by the police “against their own will”. In addition, if it is necessary to assess the voluntary element of a migrant being transported or being treated in a different way, the police will assess it in each concrete case and take measures to formally restrict movement. Furthermore the Ministry of the Interior stressed that they apply a “zero tolerance for illegal use of coercive means towards any population, as well as zero tolerance for failure to prosecute any criminal offence or misdemeanour committed by police officers which we strongly condemn and do not support in any way.”
  • Regarding the CPT’s recommendation for the Croatian police to record every “interception”,i.e. “diversion” of migrants (location, description of the action undertaken, names of officers involved, means used for these purposes etc.), the MoI stressed that migrants who are deterred from attempting to illegally enter the Republic of Croatia are located in the state territory of the neighbouring countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia where the Croatian police has no jurisdiction. More precisely, deterrence measures are applied in open and inaccessible terrains (forests, mountains), by day and by night and in all weather conditions which is why it is not possible to obtain personal information from migrants, conduct official hearings etc. Although it is not possible to identify migrants when applying deterrence measures, police officers are obliged to profile (identify) migrants in need of assistance and protection and provide them with it, taking into account the circumstances of each individual case. We would like to point out that police officers are especially trained to recognize such persons. After noticing the measures applied for deterrent purposes, in the majority of cases migrants give up on the attempt to illegally enter the Republic of Croatia and return to the depth of the territory of the neighbouring country in which they are located.
  • Regarding the CPT’s recommendation that the Croatian authorities restore the capacity of the NPM to carry out unimpeded monitoring work in all police establishments, which should include the possibility of undertaking unannounced visits and having access to all relevant information in paper or electronic format, the MoI reported that Article 5(1) of the Act on the National Preventive Mechanism (ANPM) “contains a provision on unannounced visits stipulating that “persons who participate in the performance of activities of the National Preventive Mechanism shall have the following powers: perform unannounced visits to bodies or institutions and inspect premises occupied by persons deprived of liberty” and the crucial part, “or potentially occupied by persons deprived of liberty”, stipulated in Article 3 of the ANPM, is omitted at the end of the sentence. As this provision is the only provision in the entire Act mentioning unannounced visits, we consider it to represent a lex specialis regarding unannounced visits and in relation to all other provisions of the ANPM and that an unannounced visit based on the ANPM is authorised only if foreign nationals whose freedom of movement is restricted are located in a police station”. The MoI further stressed that based on this single provision which is vague and ambiguous (Article 5(1) of the ANPM), unannounced visits have become a rule because the Ombudswoman did not announce any of her visits to police stations. In this way, she deliberately made it seem as if information were not given to her because, at the time of the visit to the police station, only police officers who do not have the requested information are most often on operational duty. Due to this, police officers for illegal migration from the headquarters of the police administration have to be called to find case files that the Ombudswoman wants to inspect immediately because the files are not in the information system and are not accessible immediately, which is another fact not mentioned by the Ombudswoman. On the contrary, she tries to imply that, considering she has indirect access to the information system (using requests), she does not obtain information which are not even in the information system (notes, certificates, orders…). In this way, a practice has been created according to which the exception as provided by law has become a rule. As regards access to the information system of the MoI, the Ombudswoman was answered on several occasions that it is strictly under the personal authority of police officers in line with the Instructions for assigning passwords and responses issued by the IT Department of the MoI, police officers are not allowed to give their passwords and responses to other persons nor are they allowed to enable access to the system to other unauthorised persons. The violation of this instruction is considered to be a serious breach of official duty in line with the Police Act.
  • Regarding the CPT’s recommendation on the conditions of detention for large groups of “intercepted” migrants who need to be processed at a police station, the Ministry of Interior replied that they are aware that the premises for persons deprived of liberty in individual police stations do not fully meet the prescribed standards. However, they are of the opinion that the possible accommodation in such premises should not be considered a degrading act because it refers to a short-term detention lasting up to 24 hours and the rooms are heated, the persons are given food as well as access to sanitation facilities. On 26 March 2020, the General Police Director sent instructions to all police administrations and stations concerning the recommendation of the Ombudswoman, that if an arrested alien needs to be detained at a police station in accordance with the Aliens Act for a period longer that 24 hours, the prolonged detention must be implemented at the nearest police station which has premises for detention for up to 72 hours.
  • As for the CPT recommendation on police transportation, the MoI reported that on 5 January 2022, the General Police Directorate of the Ministry of the Interior sent a letter to all police administration and police stations informing and instructing police officers on the orderly manner of transporting migrants using police vehicles.

The next CPT periodic visit to Croatia is planned for 2022.[29]

In August 2020, Amnesty International prepared its submission for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Croatia in November 2020.[30] It evaluated the implementation of recommendations made to Croatia in its previous UPR, including in relation to serious concerns about pushbacks and collective expulsions of refugees and migrants attempting to enter the country and in particular the allegations of violence perpetrated by the Croatian police. Croatia’s human rights record were reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group in November 2020.

As reported by Initiative Welcome, in November 2020 during the sessions on the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), several UN member states made recommendations to Croatia regarding investigations into the use of excessive force against refugees and migrants.[31] They recommended inter alia to stop illegal deportations, to improve border management in line with international human rights standards, and to combat discrimination against refugees and other migrants.[32]

In 2021, Croatia reviewed the 224 recommendations in cooperation with relevant bodies and accepted 194 of them, while the other 30 recommendations were „noted“.[33]  Due to the language used in those recommendations concerning the police treatment of migrants, Croatia was of the view that this sensitive issue has to be additionally explained. In this sense, Croatia decided to take „note“ of all the recommendations concerning migrants, refugees, asylum seekers. 

In January 2021, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights published written observations to the European Court of Human Rights concerning the cases of three Syrian applicants summarily returned from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina, stressing that all the information available to the Commissioner points to the existence of an established practice of collective returns of migrants from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina,  which are carried out outside of any formal procedure and without identifying the persons concerned or assessing their individual situation.[34] The Commissioner also pointed to the widespread ill-treatment of migrants by Croatian law enforcement officers in the context of collective returns, and a lack of prompt, effective and independent investigations of such treatment.

Litigation on pushback practices and relevant complaints

Important litigation and relevant developments in relation to illegal border practices were reported in 2021.

In March 2021, the Constitutional Court issued a decision in a case concerning an Afghan family whose application for international protection was dismissed by the Ministry of Interior on the basis of the European safe third country concept.[35]  The Ministry of Interior had concluded that Serbia, from which the family had entered Croatia, is a safe third country. In further proceedings before the Administrative Court in Osijek and the High Administrative Court, the family’s appeals were rejected. The applicants’ main complaint before the Constitutional Court was that they would be returned to Serbia from Croatia despite clear indications that they would not have access to an appropriate asylum procedure in Serbia that could protect them from expulsion or refoulement.

The Constitutional court upheld the constitutional complaints and annuled the judgments of the High Administrative Court and the judgments of the Administrative Court in Osijek. The case was thus referred back to the Administrative Court in Osijek. The Constitutional Court assessed the situation in Serbia to determine the rights of applicants for international protection in that country but also to conclude whether the Afghan family would face a serious risk of deportation to a third country without due process in accordance with the requirements of Article 3 of the ECHR. The Court also pointed out that the Ministry of the Interior and administrative courts in Serbia limited themselves to the normative framework and the number of persons granted international protection in their assessment of the situation in the country, without analysing the relevant reports and determining what is the actual treatment of persons returned from Croatia to Serbia and whether they face a risk of automatic refoulement. The Constitutional Court thus accepted the applicant’s allegations that during the procedure before the Ministry of Interior and administrative court proceedings it was not established with sufficient certainty that Serbia is a European safe third country. Croatia thus failed to fulfil its procedural obligations under Article 3 of ECHR.

In the case M.H. and others v. Croatia concerning an Afghan family of 14, the ECtHR found Croatia to have violated several articles of the ECHR. According to the complainants, the mother and her six children were pushed back by Croatian authorities in November 2017 after crossing the border from Serbia. The group was intercepted by Croatian police officers when resting in a field and despite expressing the wish to seek asylum they were taken back to the border and told to return to Serbia by following a train track in the area. As a train passed, it hit one of the children, a six year-old girl that died following the incident. On 21 March 2018, Croatian authorities apprehended the applicants who had attempted a second crossing. Despite expressing a wish to apply for asylum they were detained in a transit immigration centre in Tovarnik. In its judgment the ECtHR found several violations of the ECHR including ineffective investigation into the child’s death (article 2 procedural), degrading treatment of child applicants detained for a period above two months (article 3 substantive), failure to demonstrate required assessment, vigilance and expedition in proceedings in order to limit family detention as far as possible (article 5 § 1), restriction of contact with the chosen lawyer, pressure placed on the lawyer aimed at discouraging pursuit of case (article 34), and collective expulsion by Croatian police outside official border crossing and without prior notification of Serbian authorities (article 4 para 4). ECRE member organisation Centre for Peace Studies – who intervened in the case – and activist alliance Are You Syrious called for the interior minister and others responsible without the police to be dismissed in light of the ruling.

In July 2021, the case Y.K. against Croatia was submitted to the ECtHR and was subsequently communicated in December 2021.[36] The applicant is a Turkish national of Kurdish ethnicity who fled Turkey in 2019 after having been allegedly tortured and prosecuted numerous times in Turkey owing to his political activism. In February 2021 he entered Croatia irregularly and was immediately arrested and placed in an immigration centre, where he repeatedly tried to apply for international protection in vain. The authorities denied his attorney an opportunity to visit him in the immigration centre and ignored the lawyer’s request to be provided with the expulsion order. The applicant further alleges that the authorities told him that, if he applied for international protection, he would spend a year in prison. They further forced him to sign a voluntary return document. On 25 March 2021 they gave him a bus ticket to North Macedonia and told him to return to Greece. The applicant ended up in Serbia. The applicant complains that the Croatian authorities’ repeated refusals to provide him the possibility of lodging an application for international protection was in breach of their procedural obligation under Article 3 of the Convention. He further complains that the feeling of anxiety and insecurity related to his legal situation, caused by the authorities behaviour ignoring his request for international protection and preventing contact between him and his lawyer, amounted to degrading treatment in breach of Article 3 of the Convention. Under Article 13 in conjunction with Article 3 of the Convention, the applicant complains that he was unable to challenge his removal from Croatia, highlighting that his lawyer was unable to obtain the removal orders, and that in any event an administrative action against those decisions has no automatic suspensive effect. Lastly, the applicant complains that the Croatian authorities’ actions aimed at preventing contact between him and his lawyer were in breach of Article 34 of the Convention.

In 2020, the Centre for Peace Studies (CPS) filed four criminal charges regarding illegal removals accompanied by alleged torture and inhuman treatment. [37]

  • In June 2020, CPS filed a criminal complaint against unknown police officers on the suspicion of degrading treatment and torture of 33 persons pushed back to Bosnia and Herzegovina.[38] Allegedly, all the victims were subject to torture and degrading treatment and their heads were sprayed by the police, according to their testimonies. CPS reported that in the course of 2021 they did not received any information on the course of the investigation from the State Attorney’s Office.[39] In July 2020, another complaint was lodged at the State Attorney’s Office in Zagreb against the unknown perpetrators due to the suspicion that they tortured, humiliated and pushed back 16 persons from Croatian territory to Bosnia-Herzegovina at the end of May 2020. [40] CPS reported on 1 June  2021 that the State Attorney rejected the criminal complaint because no violations were found following the first instance investigation and that the police does not have any recorded actions towards the victims. In addition, it is stated that the Croatian authorities interviewed the victims in cooperation with the police of Bosnia and Herzegovina and identified some inconsistencies and different details in their statements compared to the ones enclosed in their first statement to the criminal complaint.[41]
  • In December 2020, CPS filled another two criminal charges to the State Attorney’s Office, for two separate cases against unknown perpetrators. The case involves a total of 13 victims, including two children, who were detained and then handed over to ten armed men dressed in black, with phantoms on their heads. The latter humiliated and pushed back the victims to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and one of the victims was raped by one of the perpetrators.[42] The case was also described in an article in Guardian.[43] The first complaint was rejected by the State Attorney’s Office in May 2021. As reported by CPS the criminal complaint included, among others, the testimony collected by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in the refugee camp, and CPS submitted additional medical documents. However, CPS stressed that the decision rejecting the complaint was problematic in several aspects. For example, the State Attorney stated that DRC was interviewed by BiH authorities and confirmed that no medical examination of victims in the case was conducted and that no medical records are available. Yet, according to CPS, DRC has never been interviewed by BiH authorities concerning the case and the medical records were submitted to the State Attorney’s Office. The investigation in the second case is still ongoing.[44]
  • In 2021, CPS filed two criminal charges related to police brutality, out of which one case concerned the illegal expulsion of an Afghan family.[45] In July 2021, CPS filed a criminal complaint due to severe violence and serious abuse of police powers when receiving the intention to apply for international protection from a family of four members. In August 2021, a criminal complaint was further filed for illegally expelling an Afghan family of six, including a pregnant woman and her four children.

In 2021, the Ombudperson has initiated several investigative proceedings regarding allegations of illegal actions of police officers at the border, as well as one procedure in regard to preventing access to international protection in the reception center for foreigners.[46]

Criticism and accountability

Are You Syrious? (AYS) reported that human rights defenders engaged in their organisation continued to be put under pressure by national authorities in 2021.[47] One of their volunteers, an asylee from Iraq, who is also one of their former employee, was directly targeted. At the end of 2019, he was offered to become an informant for the Ministry of the Interior / Security and Intelligence Agency, with threats that his status would be revoked if he refuses. Given that he still decided to refuse the offer, his refugee status was revoked in May 2020, with the explanation that he had falsely presented the facts in his case, and was declared a threat to national security. His law suit before the Administrative Court was rejected in 2020 and  in 2021, he had left Croatia .[48]

In addition, AYS reported that in December 2021, the High Misdemeanour Court in Zagreb found guilty their volunteer against whom the police had initiated misdemeanour proceedings for helping a family in the context of an irregular border crossing in 2018. The volunteer claimed that he was not in direct contact with them but only informed the police about their wish to apply for international protection due to the fact that they were previously pushed back from Croatia on several occasions. The High Misdemeanour Court in Zagreb found the volunteer guilty although according to AYS he had never been in a direct contact with the family, which was proven in court. AYS sees this as a continuation of a practice of intimidating organisations that systematically report on the situation on borders and that provide legal and other types of support to persons trying to cross the border to lodge an application for international protection.

On 30 January 2021, four Italian Members of the European Parliament, were prevented from approaching the Croatian borders by the Croatian police. During a press conference held on the next day, they explained that they had initially received permission from the authorities to observe what happens on the Croatian borders, but that they were prevented access to them.[49] The Croatian Prime Minister stressed that the aim of the visit of the MEPs was to provoke an incident and damage the international reputation of the Republic of Croatia, while disrespecting its laws and institutions.[50]

Border monitoring

The CPT in its report on ad hoc visit to Croatian in August 2020, stated that  there are currently no effective accountability mechanisms nor effective monitoring mechanism capable of examining push-backs.

An independent monitoring mechanism for border monitoring was established in Croatia in summer 2021.[51] According to information provided to the Centre for Peace Studies by the Ministry of Interior the following institutions and organizations are included in the Independent Monitoring Mechanism: the Croatian Academy of Medical Sciences, the Croatian Academy of Legal Sciences, the Centre for the Culture of Dialogue, the Croatian Red Cross and  a law professor  as an independent legal expert.[52] Representatives of the mentioned civil society organisations (one from each) and the law professor are members of the Coordinating Committee of the Independent Monitoring  Mechanism, while direct activities within Independent Monitoring Mechanism are carried out by two representatives of these civil society organisations.

The role of the Coordinating Committee is to professionally direct and manage the activities of the Independent Monitoring Mechanism and to prepare a semi-annual and final report on the conduct of police officers. The summary of the final report will be published on the Ministry of Interior’s website. In addition to the Coordinating Committee, the establishment of an Advisory Committee is envisaged as an informal body that would meet twice a year to provide guidance on any necessary improvements to this new monitoring mechanism. Within the Advisory Committee, the invitation to participate was sent to the European Commission, European agencies (i.e. FRA, Frontex, EASO – now EUAA), international organisations (IOM and UNHCR), the Ombudsman’s Office, the Office of the Ombudsman for Children, the Office of the Gender Equality Ombudsman and the State Attorney’s Office. In addition to the above, the meetings of the Advisory Board may be attended by representatives of the Coordinating Committee in order to directly provide information on the activities carried out.

The independent monitoring mechanism is established for a one year period with the possibility of extension, while activities will be carried out at the Croatian border (border crossings / police stations / police administrations) with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and the Republic of Serbia and in the reception centres for foreigners.

The activities of the Independent Monitoring Mechanism include 20 visits (announced and unannounced) in order to monitor  police officers’ treatment of irregular migrants and applicants for international protection in the implementation of regulations governing state border surveillance and international protection, announced visits to green border and access to case files  regarding complaints of alleged illegal treatment of irregular migrants and applicants for international protection. The direct activities of the Independent Monitoring Mechanism are carried out by two representatives of civil society organizations.

Within seven (7) days after the monitoring visits, monitors shall jointly compile an individual report and submit it to the Coordinating Committee. The first semi-annual report of the Independent Monitoring Mechanism for the period June- December 2021 was published at the end of 2021 and is available online.[53] During this 6 months, the monitoring mechanism conducted 8 visits. The mechanism found that “the police carried out permissible deterrence of migrants under Article 13 of the Schengen Borders Code although it does not record them, but also an impermissible deterrence in isolated cases in mine suspected areas”. 

The mechanism further found that the Ministry of Interior misinterprets relevant regulations in situations where irregular migrants cross the state border in mine suspected areas where police officers do not conduct physical surveillance. When they get caught by the police after crossing, migrants point out that they have entered Croatian territory and are seeking asylum, but the interpretation of the Border police is that they did not actually enter Croatian territory, given that these areas are not “under de facto government of the Republic of Croatia”. Thus, they discourage them from crossing / entering in a way to send them back in safe locations, without assessing their individual circumstances and determining whether they are indeed protected from refoulement.

On the occasion of the publication of Centre for Peace Studies’ and Welcome Initiative’s Report on “Illegal Expulsions from Croatia in the Context of the Covid-19 Pandemic” CSOs issued a joint statement questioning among others, the independence and effectiveness of monitoring mechanism. [54]

It should be further noted that, in September 2021, UNHCR and the Croatian Law Centre in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior organised and held 3 workshops on the subject “Access to the International Protection System” for police officers. In total 37 police officers participated at workshops. The following topics were discussed at the workshop: human rights of migrants, protection and identification of vulnerable groups, access to asylum system and the accountability of police officers. 

Legal access to the territory

Based on the 2015 Decision on relocation and resettlement of third-country nationals or stateless persons who meet the conditions for approval of international protection, Croatia has committed to accept 150 people through resettlement. Due to the high number of people who withdrew from the process during the selection missions, this quota was filled in October 2018 following four selection missions. By way of illustration, another mission took place in February 2019, during which 141 Syrian refugees identified by UNHCR were interviewed and 103 selected for resettlement.[55] In addition, Croatia continued to implement the 2017 Decision on resettlement of third-country nationals or stateless persons who meet the conditions for approval of international protection, which requires Croatia to accept up to 100 persons.

A new Decision on resettlement of third-country nationals or stateless persons who meet the conditions for approval of international protection for 2019 entered into force in February 2019.[56] The Decision foresees that Croatia will accept up to 150 persons through resettlement or shall participate in other forms of solidarity with EU Member States.

In May 2019, in the framework of the Croatian resettlement programme, 50 Syrian citizens arrived in the Reception Centre of Kutina. Four representatives of the Ministry of the Interior participated in the study visit from 24-28 June 2019 as part of the resettlement programme. The study visit aimed to exchange experiences and best practices with Portuguese colleagues while Portugal was conducting a selection mission in Turkey, Ankara.[57]

According to the Ministry of Interior, the seventh group of refugees from Turkey arrived in Croatia as part of the European Resettlement Program on 21 August 2019. The group consisted of 8 families i.e 41 citizens of the Syrian Arab Republic, of whom 24 are minors.[58] 7 Syrian nationals (2 families) arrived on 30 August 2019. As a result, Croatia has fulfilled its pledge within the EU resettlement scheme to effectively resettle 250 Syrian refugees from Turkey, according to the Decisions on Relocation and Resettlement of Third-country Nationals or Stateless Persons Eligible for International Protection from 2015 (150 persons) and 2017 (100 persons).[59]

In 2020, Croatia decided to take part in the relocation of unaccompanied children from Greece.[60] It was expected that relocation will take place in the course of 2021. Although the Croatian government originally planned to accept ten children, after the fire at the Moria camp in Greece, it was decided that 12 children would be relocated to Croatia.[61] However, Croatia’s efforts to relocate 12 asylum-seeking unaccompanied children (all girls) from Greece failed, as all of them applied for international protection while transiting at the Amsterdam International Airport.[62] Their transfer to Croatia was thus cancelled as the competent Dutch court designated the Netherlands as the state responsible for examining their applications for international protection.[63]

In 2021, Croatia responded to the call of the European External Action Service (EEAS) on evacuations from Afghanistan and decided to accept 20 people whose lives and security were endangered by the arrival of the Taliban regime. In August 2021, 19 Afghan nationals arrived, namely three families with children and one single person.[64] Other Afghan nationals came to Croatia by the end of 2021. A total of 41 Afghan citizens were admitted from August to December 2021, three of whom left the Republic of Croatia to reunite with their families, while the rest were granted asylum.[65] Out of total number, 16 were children.[66]

The Centre for Cultural Dialogue (CCD) provided assistance and support in integration of evacuated Afghan citizens who were relocated in Sisak, Rijeka, Viškovo and Zagreb.[67]

Although the Ministry of Interior reported in previous years that they do not keep statistics on the average duration of the resettlement process, they stated that the procedure from the receipt of the file from UNHCR to the transfer of refugees to Croatia lasts about 6 months on average.

 

 

 

[1] Centar for for Peace Studies (CPS) and Welcome! Initiative’: Report on illegal expulsions from Croatia in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, available at: https://bit.ly/3LSU3jD.

[2] According to DRC the number of persons reporting pushbacks does not necessarily represent the number of unique individuals, as the same individual(s) may experience repeated pushbacks to BiH.

[3] DRC , Border monitoring shapshot and factsheets, available online.

[4] UNHCR, Serbia- Snapshots January- December 2021, available at: https://data2.unhcr.org/.

[5] Ombudsperson for Children: Report on the work of the Ombudsman for Children in 2021, available in Croatian: https://bit.ly/3E2Rvg5.

[6] Guardian, Croatian border police accused of sexually assaulting Afghan migrant, available at: https://bit.ly/3hBnycF.

[7] Information provided by AYS. 7 February 2022.

[8] Information provided by the Centre for Peace studies, 10 January 2022.

[9] EctHR, Y.K. against Croatia, Application no. 38776/21, communicated on 2 December 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3vCjS2Q

[10]Danish Refugee Council (DRC), Protecting Rights at Borders (PRAB), available at: https://bit.ly/3hCiEfw.

[11]  Danish Refugee Council (DRC, Pushbacks at EU’s borders, available at: https://bit.ly/3HxC3sI.

[12]  Response of the Croatian Government to the report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) on its ad hoc visit to Croatia from 10 to 14 August 2020, available in English: https://rm.coe.int/1680a5acfc, and Croatian: https://rm.coe.int/1680a5acfd.

[13]  FRA, Migration: Key fundamental rights concerns- January- June 2121, Quarterly bulletin, available at: https://bit.ly/3CcLP2w.

[14]  Information provided by MdM, 19 January 2022.

[15] Lupiga, German media has videos: Croatian police expel babies, pregnant women and children with disabilities available at : https://bit.ly/35Qq38E.

[16]  Lighthouse Reports, Unmasking Europe’s shadow armies,  available at: https://bit.ly/3HR6tGF.

[17]  INDEX, Police officers: Yes, we use force against migrants. It is illegal, but these are the orders, available at: https://bit.ly/3C7L9v4.

[18] 14th session of the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights and the Rights of National Minorities, available at: https://bit.ly/3vAVTRn.

[19] Omudswoman, Police Violence Video: Efficient Investigation into Use of Force by Police Necessary for the Protection of Human Rights and the Rule of Law, available at: https://bit.ly/3tnTDdv.

[20]  Letter of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament s available at:

[21]  Reliefweb, The UN in Bosnia and Herzegovina is concerned by violent pushback of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, April 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3pAdsNB.

[22]  Telegram, UN official: ‘There are many credible reports of Croatian police violence at the border’s,  available at: https://bit.ly/3sFcCkU.

[23]  Council of Europe, ‘Council of Europe anti-torture Committee carries out rapid reaction visit to Croatia to examine treatment of migrants’, 18 August 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/32gXsEs.

[24]   Ombudsman, Annual report 2020, available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/3aaQXar.

[25]  Novosti, Moi v. Council of Europe, available at: https://www.portalnovosti.com/mup-protiv-vijeca-europe; Euroactive, Croatia slammed by Council of Europe anti-torture committee over migrants, available at https://bit.ly/3CcMMb6.

[26]  Council of Europe, Report to the Croatian Government on the visit to Croatia carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 10 to 14 August 2020, available at: https://rm.coe.int/1680a4c199.

[27] Ministry of Interior, Reaction to the unilateral publication of the CPT Report, 2 December 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3vuOPG2.

[28] Response of the Croatian Government to the report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) on its ad hoc visit to Croatia from 10 to 14 August 2020, available in English: https://bit.ly/3KHFrDu.  

[29] Council of Europe, Council of Europe anti-torture Committee announces periodic visits to eight countries in 2022, 29 July 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3hEZ2aw.

[30] Amnesty International, Croatia: Existing laws are failing victims of domestic violence – Submission for the UN Universal periodic review, 2-13 November 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3sln1yo.

[31]   Information provided by the Initiative Welcome, 13 November 2020.

[32] UN TV, Croatia Review – 36th Session of Universal Periodic Review, available at: https://bit.ly/2RxGfEp.

[33]  United Nations, General Assembly: Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, Croatia- Addendum, Views on conclusions and/or recommendations, voluntary commitments and replies presented by the State under review, 17 February 2021; available at: https://undocs.org/en/A/HRC/46/16/Add.1.

[34] Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Commissioner publishes observations on summary returns of migrants from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina, 11 January 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3pzPphY.

[36] EctHR, Y.K. against Croatia, Application no. 38776/21, communicated on 2 December 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3vCjS2Q.

[37]  Information provided by the Centre For Peace studies, 22 January 2021.

[38] Centre for peace Studies, Criminal complaint against Croatian policemen for inhumane treatment of refugees, 5 June 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3tuLSBm.

[39]  Information provided by Centre for Peace Studies, 14 February 2022.

[40] Centre for Peace Studies, CPS filed one more criminal complaint: What is the connection between Croatian police and armed men in black?, 23 July 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3gnVaLY.

[41]   Information provided by Centre for Peace Studies, 14 February 2022.

[42] Centre for Peace Studies, New criminal charges on Human Rights Day, CPS demands an investigation into the connection between the Ministry of Interior and men in black uniforms with phantoms!, 10 December 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3glMSEd.

[43] The Guardian, ‘Croatian police accused of ‘sickening’ assaults on migrants on Balkans trail’, 21 October 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3dzRODT.

[44]  Information provided by Centre for Peace Studies, 14 February 2022.

[45]  Information provided by Centre for Peace Studies, 10 January 2022.

[46]  Ombudsperson, Annual report 2021, available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/38IiL8f.

[47] Information provided by AYS, 2 February 2022.

[48] Politika: They asked me to be an informant,20 November 2021,  available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/3HHONNk.

[49] European Civic Forum, ECF condemns breaches of the rule of law on Croatian borders with Bosnia, available at: https://bit.ly/3KgF1DQ.

[50]  Jutarnji list, Plenković sent a sharp protest against the provocation of Italian MEPs on the border with BiH, available at: https://bit.ly/3MkzZrC.

[51] European Commission: Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the Report on Migration and Asylum, September 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3C86iFs.

[52] Ministry of Interior, Letter to Centre for Peace Studies, 16 September 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3HEP03R.

[53] Independent Monitoring Mechanism, The first semi-annual report of the Independent Monitoring Mechanisam for the period June- December 2021, available at: https://bit.ly/3KbMgfX.

[54] Joint statement available at: https://bit.ly/3JsdSg3.

[55]  SHARE, Integration Magazine, April 2019, available in English at: https://bit.ly/2xyKwOm.

[56] Official Gazette 16/2019.

[57] EMN, Bulletin, July 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2xQ8zrO.

[58]  Ministry of Interior, ‘The arrival of the seventh group of Syrian refugees from Turkey’, 21 August 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3c181hL.

[59] EMN, Bulletin, November 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/34iMWN8.

[60] Telegram, ‘Confirmed to the Telegram: seven EU countries will accept 1,600 refugee children, including Croatia’, 12 March 2020, available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/3ato5KA.

[61] Telegram, ‘Telegram finds out: After the terrible fire in the migrant camp, the Government is preparing to accept 12 children’, 12 September 2020, available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/3n6F36E.

[62] FRA, Migration: Key fundamental rights concerns- January- June 2121, Quarterly bulletin, available at: https://bit.ly/3HQapaz.

[63] Ministry of Interior, Decision on revocation of the decision on the allocation of funds for the implementation of the project “New Home”, available in Croatian: https://bit.ly/3KmMkcV.

[64]  Ministry of Interior: 19 Afghan citizens arrived in Croatia, available at: https://bit.ly/3Ciow7r.

[65]  Ombudsperson, Annual report 2021, available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/3v5TsVi.

[66] Ombudsperson for Children: Report on the work of the Ombudsman for Children in 2021, available in Croatian: https://bit.ly/3KzksTm.

[67]  Information provided by Centre for Cultural Dialogue, 13 January 2022

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation