Regular procedure

Croatia

Country Report: Regular procedure Last updated: 12/01/21

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Croatian Law Centre Visit Website

General (scope, time limits)

The first instance decision can be a decision by which the Ministry of Interior:

  • Grants asylum;
  • Grants subsidiary protection;
  • Rejects the application if the applicant does not meet the conditions for asylum and subsidiary protection;
  • Rejects the application if the conditions are met for exclusion;
  • Rejects the application as manifestly unfounded;
  • Dismisses an asylum application as inadmissible; or
  • Suspends the procedure.

The Ministry of Interior’s Department for international protection procedure has the obligation to take a decision on the application for international protection within 6 months from its lodging. If no decision can be rendered within 6 months, the applicant shall be informed of this in writing and at his or her request shall be provided with information about the reasons for the failure to respect the time limit and about the time needed before which he or she may expect a decision. The 6-month time limit may be exceptionally prolonged for additional 9 plus 3 months. It may be extended for a further 9 months if:

  1. The application includes complex facts and/or legal issues;
  2. A large number of third-country nationals or stateless persons are requesting international protection at the same time; or
  3. The applicant, through his or her actions, contrary to his or her obligations as applicant, causes the time limit to be extended.

However, this time limit may be extended for a further 3 months exclusively in order to ensure the complete consideration of the application.[1]

The Ministry of Interior informed the Croatian Law Centre that they do not have exact data on the duration of the first instance procedure as the Ministry does not keep such records according, but stressed that most of the cases are processed within the prescribed deadlines, which according to the LITP vary from 6 to 21 months. The Ministry also indicated that they do notify applicants when the decision can be expected.[2] The trend of prolonged procedures, exceeding the 6-month period, were observed in previous years, but no information is available for 2019.

If it is justifiably to be expected that no decision will be rendered on the application within the time limits referred above on account of the temporary unsafe situation in the country of origin, the Ministry shall periodically verify the situation in the country of origin and inform the applicant and the European Commission within a reasonable time of the reasons for failure to render a decision. In that case, a decision must be rendered no later than within 21 months from the day the application is lodged.[3]

 

Prioritised examination and fast-track processing

 

Applications by unaccompanied children are prioritised as specified by the LITP.[4]

According to the Ministry of Interior the cases of unaccompanied children, those who need special procedural or reception guarantees, cases of persons resettled from Turkey should have priority in decision making.[5] The Ministry also reported that procedures in cases where applicants were detained in Transit Reception Centre in Tovarnik also had priority in 2018. No information is available for 2019.

Additionally, an application which may be approved on the basis of the established facts also has priority in decision-making.[6] According to the Ministry of Interior, special attention is also given to cases of applicants who need special procedural or reception guarantees.

 

Personal interview

 

After a short initial interview conducted by the officials from the Reception Centre for Applicants for International Protection for the purpose of lodging an application, a substantive interview is conducted by the Department for international protection procedure of the Ministry of Interior. According to the LITP, when the application has been lodged, the Ministry of Interior shall, as soon as possible, interview the applicant. During the interview, the applicant is obliged to present all circumstances relevant to the application for international protection, truthfully answer all questions, and submit all available evidence to support the application, i.e. give credible and convincing explanations of all the reasons behind the application for international protection.[7]

The interview may be omitted:

  • When a positive decision on application may be taken on the basis of the available evidence;
  • In cases when an applicant is unfit or unable to be interviewed, owing to enduring circumstances beyond his or her control; or
  • When the admissibility of a subsequent application is being assessed.[8]

The Ministry of Interior reported at the beginning of 2019 that they do not keep records on cases in which a decision was taken without an interview.[9]

The LITP provides that the applicant shall give reasons if he or she refuses to cooperate with the official conducting the interview. The Ministry shall consider the reasons and shall inform the applicant orally for the record of its decision. [10]

All interviews are conducted by the civil servants of the Department for international protection procedure within the Ministry of Interior, who are also responsible for taking decisions on the application.

Interpretation

Most applicants are interviewed in practice. According to the LITP, the presence of an interpreter during the personal interview is required in case an applicant does not understand the language in which the procedure is conducted.[11] In practice this means that the interpreter is present in all cases, with the only exception of those in which the applicant understands Croatian (for example in past when applicants were nationals of a neighbouring country such as Bosnia and Herzegovina).

There is no specific code of conduct for interpreters in the context of procedure for international protection, nor were standards prescribed in the past with regard to the qualifications of interpreters in the procedure for international protection. The LITP prescribes conditions that have to be fulfilled in order for a contract to be signed between the Ministry of Interior and an interpreter.[12] The Ministry shall conclude an agreement with a translator/interpreter if:

  1. It is assessed that he or she has good knowledge of the Croatian language in writing and speech;
  2. It is assessed that he or she has good knowledge of the language for which he or she is being engaged;
  3. It is established that no circumstances exist that could represent a hindrance to employment in the civil service pursuant to the regulations on employment in the civil service;
  4. It is established that no security hindrances exist after the conducting of a basic security check pursuant to the regulations on security checks.

In addition, the interpreter must be reliable, impartial and must interpret truthfully and accurately. He or she is obliged to act pursuant to the regulations governing the protection of personal data, and especially may not disclose the data such as personal and other information collected during the procedure.

If for objective reasons it is not possible to provide an interpreter for a specific language, the Ministry of Interior shall request assistance from another Member State of the European Economic Area.

Up to now, interpreters were not professionally trained and interpretation is not done by accredited interpreters in the majority of cases. Many of them are native speakers, however they are not fluent in the Croatian language. Usually, persons who simply possess the requested language skills are contracted by the Ministry of Interior. Nevertheless, there is a lack of interpreters, especially for some specific languages (such as Kurumanji and Tamil). In addition, applicants from African countries are often interviewed in English or French, languages they are considered as being able to understand. Applicants are asked at the beginning of the interview if they understand the interpreter.

The LITP prescribes that interpretation can be provided by means of electronic telecommunications or audio-visual equipment, however there is no available information if this possibility is used in practice.

Recording and transcript

During the interview, verbatim minutes of the interview are drafted. Once the interview is finished, the interpreter translates the minutes to the applicant who then has a possibility to make corrections, interventions, as well as to add information if needed. Generally, in practice, the quality of the minutes is not considered problematic, although there were cases in which minutes were not considered to be of sufficient quality by the applicants. It also depends on the interpreter whether he or she summarises the answers (which they should not do), or translates each sentence of the applicant (which is how they should translate). By signing the minutes, the applicant agrees with the content of the transcript.

 

Appeal

 

 Appeal before the Administrative Court

Decisions of the Ministry of Interior may be challenged before the Administrative Court.[13] According to the law, the time limit for an applicant to lodge an appeal to the Administrative Court in the regular procedure is 30 days after the delivery of the decision of the Ministry of Interior.[14]

In the Croatian Law Centre’s experience, there is no information specifying that applicants face obstacles to appealing a decision in practice, although issues arise with regard to legal assistance.

Each asylum case is examined by a single judge. Judges are not specialised on asylum neither specifically trained in asylum law, although from time to time some trainings are organised for judges (usually by UNHCR and NGOs). In 2017, with financial support from UNHCR, the Croatian Law Centre, in cooperation with the Judicial Academy and UNHCR, prepared a one-day seminar on the topic “Exclusion Clause” for judges of the administrative courts in Zagreb, Rijeka, Osijek and Split and the High Administrative Court. In 2018, the Croatian Law Centre, in cooperation with the Judicial Academy and UNHCR, prepared a one-day seminar funded by UNHCR on the topic “Vulnerable groups of applicants for international protection” for judges of the Administrative Courts in Zagreb, Rijeka and Split.[15] In 2019, the Croatian Law Centre organised a one and a half-day seminar on the topic “The burden and standards of proof in the administrative procedure and administrative dispute“ for judges of the Administrative Courts in Zagreb, Osijek and Split. The training was organised in cooperation with the Judicial Academy and UNHCR, and funded by the latter.

The court holds a hearing in the presence of the applicant in the majority of cases. Exceptions may occur when the applicant’s whereabouts are unknown. Interpreters are provided and paid by the state and available during the administrative dispute. The hearings are not public. 

The Court can freely assess the evidence and establish the facts (requesting also further evidence if needed) – without being bound by the facts established in the procedure of the Ministry of Interior – while determining refugee status, although it takes them into account when deciding. Evidence, in terms of Law on Administrative Disputes, includes in this case documents, interviews of the parties, experts' opinions and findings and other means of collecting evidence, and the court presents it according to the rules for presenting evidence in the civil procedure.[16] In general, there is no time limit set in law for the Administrative Court to make a decision in the regular procedure.

The outcomes of the administrative dispute can be that the appeal is dismissed as inadmissible (and therefore not decided on the merits), rejected (i.e. decided negatively on the merits), or allowed. If the appeal is allowed, the Court can either refer the case back to the Ministry of Interior for the review procedure or it can change the decision by itself, meaning that the result is granting refugee or subsidiary protection status. The court decisions are not publicly available.

In practice, one attorney has informed the Croatian Law Centre that the practice of Administrative Courts has changed, and that they accept appeals and either change the Ministry of Interior’s decisions or refer the case back to the Ministry of Interior for the review procedure.[17]

Administrative Courts reported the following decisions in 2019:

 

Second instance decisions by Administrative Court: 2019

Category

Zagreb

Rijeka

Osijek

Split

Total

Accepted

3

0

0

0

3

Partially accepted-cases referred back to the Ministry of Interior

2

0

0

0

2

Accepted – cases referred back to the Ministry of Interior

21

1

1

1

24

Rejected

129

3

1

1

134

Dismissed as inadmissible

0

0

0

0

0

Suspended

3

0

0

0

3

Transferred to the Administrative Court in Osijek

1

0

0

0

1

Transferred to the Administrative Court in Split

1

0

0

0

1

Total

160

4

2

2

168

Source: Administrative Court of Zagreb, 21 January 2020; Administrative Court of Rijeka, 8 January 2020; Administrative Court of Osijek, 7 January  2020; Administrative Court of Split, 27 January 2020.

 

The average processing time for asylum cases at second instance in 2019 was 132 days (in case of citizens of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – 46 days) in Zagreb, 32 days in Osijek, and 3 months in Rijeka.

The Rehabilitation Centre for Stress and Trauma and the Red Cross expressed concerns regarding the increasing length of proceedings of asylum cases before the Administrative Court.[18] The waiting time for a decision increased from five months in 2018 up to between seven and ten months in 2019.

Onward appeal before the High Administrative Court

Applicants may lodge a further appeal against the Administrative Court decision before a High Administrative Court. This appeal, however, does not have suspensive effect.[19] During 2019, the High Administrative Court received 29 appeals in international protection cases:

Onward appeal statistics: 2019

Category

Number

Appeals received in 2019

29

Accepted

2

Rejected

25

Suspended

0

Dismissed as inadmissible

1

Total decisions in 2019           

28

Pending

1

 
Source: High Administrative Court, 15 January 2020.

 

In the course of 2019, the High Administrative Court did not have to rule over Dublin cases. It also received 12 appeals lodged in detention cases, out of which11 were rejected and one was accepted.

 

Legal assistance

 

The right to free legal assistance in procedures is regulated by LITP. There is also a general procedure and system of free legal aid which is regulated by the Law on Free Legal Aid, but applicants for international protection can only benefit from this law in some procedures for which legal aid is not provided for by the specific law (for example LITP).

Legal assistance at first instance

The LITP provides for the possibility of legal information and counselling at first instance procedure before the Ministry of Interior.[20] The LITP specifies that applicants should, at their request, be provided with legal and procedural information on the approval of international protection, taking into account the circumstances of the specific case, in a language which it may be reasonably be presumed that they understand and in which they are able to communicate. The right to counselling should be provided by organisations working to protect the rights of refugees or by attorneys with whom the Ministry shall conclude an agreement on the provision of legal counselling. An applicant who has no financial resources or things of significant value that enable him or her to have an appropriate standard of living shall have the right to legal counselling.

In August 2018, the Ministry of Interior published a public call for providers of legal counselling i.e. for a project for providing legal advice in the asylum procedure. The Croatian Law Centre (CLC) was selected as organisation responsible for providing legal counselling for the period of 1 April 2019 to 31 March  2020.[21] The Project "Legal Counselling in the Procedure of Granting International Protection" was financed by AMIF and was aimed at providing legal information on the procedure of granting international protection. As of April 2020, no new public call for providers of legal counselling was published.

Until April 2019, CLC lawyers were provided legal counseling under the project funded by UNHCR every Tuesday in the Reception Centre for Applicants for International Protection- Porin usually from 10.00 am to 12.00. As of May 2019, CLC lawyers were providing legal counseling every working day in the Reception Centre in Zagreb, while counseling in the Reception Centre in Kutina and the Reception Centre for Foreigners in Ježevo (detention centre) was organised when needed.

Interested applicants who need legal information out of the scope of the project funded through AMIF are referred to CLC lawyers working on project funded by UNHCR.

Legal assistance in appeals

According to the LITP, free legal aid includes assistance in the preparation of a law suit to the Administrative Court and representation before the Administrative Court i.e. in the first instance administrative court disputes,[22] if requested by the applicant and foreigner under transfer, under the condition that they do not have sufficient financial resources or possessions of significant value.[23] Legal assistance may be provided by attorneys at law and lawyers from organisations registered for providing legal assistance.[24] In April 2016, a public call was announced, also allowing lawyers from NGOs to apply for the first time. The next public call was announced in June 2018 and the latest one in January 2020.[25] The new list of providers of free legal aid is available on the website of the Ministry of Interior.[26]

In practice there are no obstacles to accessing attorneys, as applicants are informed about their right to free legal assistance and attorneys are notified usually by the Ministry of Interior. Attorneys organise the interpreter for the appointment and then inform the Ministry of Interior.

According to information received from an attorney in 2018, a clear procedure for the announcement of the arrival of lawyers in the Reception Centre for Applicants for international protection has been established in 2018.[27] In 2019, however, one attorney reported the lack of adequate rooms in the centre where attorneys could meet with their clients. Instead the visits took place in the lobby of the Reception Centre.[28]

The Administrative Court shall decide on the right to free legal assistance, and the amount of costs of legal assistance.[29] According to the Ordinance on free legal aid, the Administrative Court decides on the right to free legal assistance and takes into account the evidence on the financial status of the applicant, which is obtained ex officio by the Ministry of Interior during the first instance procedure on the one side and by compiling the form by the applicant on the other side. In practice that means that at the beginning of the first instance procedure, the applicant has to specify, by completing a form provided to them, if they carry any valuables with them, which is rarely the case.  

The reimbursement of costs is still considered problematic by some attorneys representing applicants in Administrative Court disputes as there are no clear rules for some specific situations. One attorney reported issues arising in a case where the client did not inform her about the fact that that the client’s salary had increased (due to overtime hours etc). The same attorney reported a case where the client withdrew the lawsuit, through another attorney, without informing the initially chosen attorney. The initial attorney was thus not able to access the decision of the Administrative Court as the decision to suspend the administrative dispute was delivered to the other attorney, as a result of which the costs were not reimbursed to initially chosen attorney..[30] Another attorney, who did not face issues with reimbursements, highlighted the issue of the length of reimbursement[31], as these must be approved by Courts at the end of the court procedure and when the Ministry of Interior is informed that free legal aid was approved i.e when the provider of free legal aid submits the invoice to the Ministry of Interior in accordance with the decision of the administrative court. One attorney reported that courts do not approve the reimbursement of all the necessary costs such as travel costs.[32]

In previous years it was emphasised that this system of granting the right to legal aid at the end of the procedure is unfair as the full burden and risk is shifted to the provider of free legal aid. If, for any reason, the court does not endorse free legal aid, the provider will not receive anything and has completed the work without payment.

The High Administrative Court took the view that free legal aid under the LITP covers only the composition of the lawsuit and the hearing, and not the composition of any further submissions which are sometimes needed, which also means that for such legal actions attorneys are not reimbursed.[33]

In addition, the appeal to the High Administrative Court is not covered by free legal aid under the LITP, although it is a logical next step. In addition, the Act on legal profession requires from attorneys to continue representing clients up to 30 days after the termination of the power of attorney, if there is a risk that a client may be harmed. So since there is a contradiction between the provisions of the Act on legal profession and the provisions of the LITP which regulate free legal aid, attorneys have to deal with this in a way that prevents possible harm for a client and to proceed according to the Act on legal profession, which means that they are writing and submitting appeals to the High Administrative Court, without being paid for their work.[34] This was also reported in 2018.[35]

The LITP also states that the providers of free legal aid must inform the Ministry of Interior without delay of the bringing of a claim before the Administrative Court and the date of delivery of the Court’s judgment. If a provider of legal assistance does not act in line with this obligation, the provider shall be deleted from the List of Providers of Free Legal assistance.[36] The Ordinance on free legal aid prescribes that the provider should be first warned in writing and then deleted for the list if he or she has not complied with this obligation.[37]

 


[1] Article 40 LITP.

[2] Information provided by the Ministry of Interior, 28  January 2019.

[3] Article 40 LITP.

[4] Article 17(9) LITP.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Article 38(2) LITP.

[7] Article 35(2) LITP.

[8] Article 35(8) LITP.

[9] Information provided by the Ministry of Interior, 28 January 2019.

[10] Article 35(6) LITP.

[11] Article 14(2) LITP.

[12] Article 13 LITP.

[13] Article 32(2) LITP.

[14] Article 24(1) Law on Administrative Disputes.

[15] Judges from Administrative Court in Osijek and from the High Administrative Court were invited, but did not participate in the seminar.

[16] Article 33 Law on Administrative Disputes.

[17] Information provided by an attorney-at-law, 3 January 2018.

[18] FRA, Migration flows: Key fundamental rights concerns, 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/3dRSyCb.

[19] Article 51(3) LITP.

[20] Article 59(3)-(5) LITP.

[21] Ministry of Interior, Decision on the allocation of funds to the Croatian Law Center for project implementation, available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/2JAI2BB.

[22] Article 60(2) LITP.

[23] Article 60(1) LITP.

[24] Article 60(4) LITP.

[25] Official Gazette 9/2020, Ministry of Interior, Public call, available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/2JCZ5mk.

[26] Ministry of Interior, List od free legal aid providers for Administrative courts (Zagreb,Rijeka, Split, Osijek), available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/2ymBF2s.

[27] Information provided by an attorney-at-law, 31 December 2018.

[28] Information provided by an attorney-at-law, 21 January 2020.

[29] Article 60(3) LITP.

[30] Information provided by an attorney-at-law, 16 January 2020.

[31] Information provided by an attorney-at-law, 16 December 2019.

[32]Information provided by an attorney-at-law, 21 January 2020.

[33] Information provided by an attorney-at-law, 3 January 2018.

[34] Information provided by an attorney-at-law, 2 January 2018.

[35] Information provided by an attorney-at-law, 13 December, 2018.

[36] Article 60(5) LITP; Article 11(8)-(9) Ordinance on free legal aid in the procedure of granting international protection.

[37] Article 11(8)-(9) Ordinance on free legal aid in the procedure of granting international protection.

 

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