The report was previously updated in March 2019.
Communication to the European Parliament and the Council on the verification of the full application of the Schengen acquis by Croatia
In October 2019, the European Commission (EC) released a communication to the European Parliament and the Council on the verification of the full application of the Schengen acquis by Croatia. According to the EC, Croatia has taken measures to ensure that the necessary conditions for the full application of the Schengen rules and standards are met. At the same time, the EC highlighted that the protection of human rights of applicants for international protection and other migrants, and the allegations of denial of access to the asylum procedure as well as the use of force by law enforcement officials at the border remain a challenge. Croatia must investigate and closely monitor the allegations of mistreatment at its external borders, and keep the EC informed on progress made.
Croatian Presidency of the Council of the European Union
Moreover, since 1 January and until 30 June 2020, Croatia is responsible for the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first time. Under its programme “A strong Europe in a world of challenges”, the Presidency has set as one of its priorities “A Europe that protects”. This includes “strengthening internal security, providing more effective control of external borders, with the goal to find a comprehensive solution for a sustainable and effective migration and asylum policy.” The programme further foresees that “the Croatian Presidency will work towards comprehensive, effective and humane migration management on all migration routes. In addition to strengthening the system for the supervision of the EU’s borders, Croatia will continue to work on the establishment of a sustainable and efficient framework for the Common European Asylum System. To ensure the effective prevention of illegal migration and a more systematic implementation of the return policies, the Presidency will try to reach an agreement on the list of safe third countries and safe countries of origin. It will continue to work towards the consistent implementation of the readmission agreement and a more coherent implementation of economic, development-related, and other measures in cooperation with the countries of origin and transit of migrants. The Presidency will also work towards the development of policies that will provide an upgraded framework for safe and legal migration”.
At national level, the main changes since the previous AIDA update are as follows:
- Access to the territory: Numerous reports of push backs and violent police practices at the border have been documented in 2019, thus hindering the access to the asylum procedure. In particular, NGOs and international organisations reported the issue of persons being pushed back from Croatia’s border to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, along with further reports of push-backs to Serbia from other neighbouring states. From January to September 2019, UNHCR and partners in Serbia reported that 384 pushbacks involving 2,674 persons were carried out from Croatia to Serbia; and that 289 pushbacks, involving 2,194 persons, were carried out from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- Determining authority: Since March 2019, the Directorate for immigration, citizenship and administrative affairs is the authority responsible for examining applications for international protection and competent to take decisions at first instance. This used to fall under the responsibility of the Administrative and Inspection Affairs Directorate of the Ministry of the Interior.
- Length of appeal procedures: According to some national organisations concerns as regards the length of the appeal procedure have been raised in 2019 as it currently reaches seven to ten months. According to information provided by Administrative Courts, however, the average processing time for asylum cases in 2019 was 132 days in Zagreb, 32 days in Osijek, and 3 months in Rijeka.
- Subsequent applications: In 2019, the Constitutional Court issued a decision which highlights the importance of examining individual circumstances in subsequent applications and the fact that applicants for international protection must be allowed to clarify inconsistencies. The case concerned an Iraqi national who had first stated that she left Iraq because of the war and her fear of ISIL, but who had then stated in her subsequent application that she was a victim of sexual-based violence and female genital mutilation. Her application for international protection was rejected as the determining authority considered that her statements were contradictory, which was also the view of the Administrative Court and the High Administrative Court. The Constitutional Court, however, found a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and quashed the judgement of the High Administrative Court and Administrative Court. The case was sent back to the Administrative Court of Zagreb. 
- Resettlement: The number of refugees that arrived to Croatia through resettlement schemes increased in 2019. According to the Ministry of Interior, 98 persons were resettled in 2019 and 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). The 2019 resettlement operations were achieved through a 13 months Cooperation Agreement on the Integration of Persons resettled from Turkey signed between the Ministry of Interior and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) at the end of December 2018. In 2019, the Government further stated that it is ready to accept up to 150 third-country nationals or stateless persons on the basis of resettlement schemes or by participating to other forms of solidarity with EU Member States.
- Preliminary ruling: The Supreme Court of the Republic of Croatia recently submitted a request for a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in a case concerning an order for the applicant’s extradition to Russia. The individual submitted an appeal against an order for his extradition to Russia on the grounds that there was a concrete, serious, and reasonably foreseeable risk of torture or ill-treatment in the event of return. The Supreme Court expressed doubts as to whether Iceland, which has also granted nationality to the applicant, must also be informed of the extradition so that it may request the surrender of its national.
- Reception centre: In accordance with the decision of the Ministry of Interior of 2018, the Government of the Republic of Croatia had planned to build a Reception Centre for asylum seekers near Petrinja, in Mala Gorica. However, in 2019, due to the opposition from the local population, it was decided that the funds would be invested in the renovation of the existing Reception centers in Zagreb and Kutina instead. As a result, the living conditions in the Reception Centre in Zagreb have significantly improved.
- Hate speech: Hate speech is growing, especially on news portals in the form of unmoderated reader comments. Moreover, the media released a video of policemen near the border police station of Cetingrad forcing migrants to sit on the floor next to a police patrol car and to shout the name of Zagreb’s football club as well as the Nazi-fascist regime’s salute “Ready for the Homeland”. The Ministry of Interior initiated disciplinary procedures and one officer was removed from the police service.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Legal assistance in detention: The issue of effective access to legal assistance for review of detention was reported by some attorneys at law. They have stressed the lack of individual assessment in the detention decisions as well as limited access to detained clients. In some cases the lack of privacy of conversation with clients was reported as well.
Content of international protection
- Integration: Beneficiaries of international protection still face significant challenges in exercising their rights in almost all areas, as persisting obstacles are still not solved nor sufficiently addressed at state level, thus rendering the role of civil society organisations crucial. The most important issues still relate to the language barrier, health care, employment, education and housing. As the previous Integration Action Plan expired at the end of 2019, a new Integration Action Plan is under discussion, covering the period 2020-2022. Moreover, on 14 November 2019, the Government adopted a decision on the establishment of the new Permanent Commission for the Implementation of Integration of Foreigners in Croatian Society, which provides inter alia for the appointment of a representative of local and regional unit and a representative of non-governmental organisation, which were not part of the previous commission. The Permanent Commission has a president and 17 members.
- Access to information: While beneficiaries of protection receive information on their rights and obligations as soon as they receive a protection status, several additional materials were established in 2019 to improve their access to information. This includes the publication of an amended guide for integration which was prepared by the Croatian Governmental Office for Human Rights and the Rights of National Minorities in 2019. Similarly, the Croatian Red Cross published leaflets containing basic information for beneficiaries of international protection as well as contact details to relevant institutions and NGOs. IOM Croatia has further issued a Guidebook for the stakeholders involved in the integration process of the persons granted the international protection.
 European Commission, Communication to the European Parliament and the Council on the verification of the full application of the Schengen acquis by Croatia, 22 October 2019, available at: https://bit.ly/2UkzXHm.
 Ministry of Interior, Decision on the annulment of the decision on the allocation of funds for the implementation of the project "Establishment of infrastructure and capacity building of the Reception Centre for Asylum seekers in Mala Gorica" and termination of the agreement on direct allocation of funds for the implementation of the said project, 24 May 2019, available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/2UCjop9.
 Croatian Red Cross, Leaflets for beneficiaries of international protection, available in Croatian, English, French Arabic and Farsi at: https://bit.ly/2ylqneu; Information provided by the Croatian Red Cross, 20 December 2019.