The report was previously updated in April 2020.
In 2020, the main challenge which directly impacted the Croatian asylum system was the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government introduced a website on COVID-19 measures and related news available at: https://www.koronavirus.hr/en. The National Civil Protection Authority also issued a number of decisions aimed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The general recommendations related to the outbreak of COVID-19 can be found on the website of Croatian Institute for Public Health. These measures and recommendations targeted directly and indirectly applicants for and beneficiaries of international protection. In addition a series of strong and devastating earthquakes hit Croatia in the course of 2020, which also influenced the work of institutions as well as the mental health of applicants for international protection and beneficiaries of international protection.
- Access to the territory: Access to the territory and to the international protection procedure remains one of the most serious concerns in 2020. This report provides an overview of information on push back practices reported by testimonies, NGOs, human rights bodies, UN bodies, media and other relevant actors scrutinising border practices carried out by national authorities in 2020. According to the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and UNHCR Serbia, 18,400 persons have been refused access to the territory, including vulnerable groups such as children. This refers to 16,425 push backs from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) according to DRC and 1,975 push backs from Croatia to Serbia according to UNHCR Serbia. These incidents also raise serious concerns over the level of violence and the use of force by national law enforcement authorities in many cases.
- Key statistics on the asylum procedure: The number of applicants for international protection in 2020 was slightly lower than in the previous year, decreasing from 1,986 applicants in 2019 to1,932 in 2020. Although detailed statistics were not made available by national authorities, the recognition rate remained low in 2020, as only 42 persons were granted international protection. Moreover, 103 appeals out of 123 cases were rejected by the Administrative Court of Zagreb in 2020. The total number of pending cases at first and second instance reached 378 at the end of 2020. However, it should be noted that more than 1,600 international protection procedures were suspended because the concerned person left the country, thereby indicating that Croatia remains mainly a transit country.
- First instance procedure: As opposed to the first interview on the lodging of the application where in some cases remote interpretation services were used, substantive in-merit interviews continued to be conducted in person and no particular delays were reported in 2020. While Dublin transfers were suspended due to COVID-19, applications for international protection continued to be processed throughout the year.
- Unaccompanied children: The Ombudswoman for children reported that at least 170 children were expelled in 2020 according to data collected by the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), and testimonies of violence against them and their family members were recorded. In 2020, 942 children seeking international protection were registered, out of which 186 were unaccompanied which is a significant increase compared to 2019. A total of 17 international protection statuses were granted to children, however none of them to unaccompanied children as they left Croatia before the end of procedure. According to the Ombudswoman for children, conditions in social welfare institutions do not meet the specific needs of unaccompanied children and do not provide adequate protection for children. There is an insufficient number of professional staff and they are not specially trained to work with foreign children.
- Other vulnerable groups: In 2020, an Ordinance on health care standards for applicants for international protection and foreigners under temporary protection entered into force. The Ordinance regulates amongst other the scope of health care for vulnerable applicants for international protection. It should be further noted that Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs) in Cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the Reception Centres for Applicants of International Protection are currently in the process of being finalised.
- Impact of COVID-19 on reception: Due to the spread of COVID-19, Reception Centres for applicants of international protection were adapted to epidemiological measures. The daily presence of a physician was ensured, while the access for persons not necessary to the functioning of these facilities was limited from March until the end of 2020. Throughout the year, a total of 1,348 applicants for international protection were subjected to self-isolation.
Detention of applicants for international protection
- Detention grounds: On 24 June 2020, the Constitutional Court issued a decision rejecting the proposal to initiate proceedings to review the constitutionality of Article 54 para. 11 of the Law on International and Temporary Protection (LITP). This provision regulates that the Ministry of Interior, the police administration or the police station shall render a decision on the restriction of movement, establishing the type of measure concerned and its duration, which must be proportionate to the aim of the restriction of movement.  The applicant considered that said provision is contrary to Article 22 para. 2 of the Constitution, as it stipulates that decisions on restrictions on the freedom of movement of applicants for international protection are issued by an executive body rather than a court. Despite the fact that the Constitutional Court did not initiate proceedings to review the constitutionality, it emphasised in its reasoning that the provisions of the LITP must be interpreted and applied in the light of relevant EU directives and existing case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
- Detention conditions: In August 2020, the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visited a number of border police stations as well as the reception centre for foreigners (Ježevo) in Croatia to examine the conditions of detention and pre-removal procedures. According to the Croatian Ombudsperson, the report on the CPT visit was adopted in November 2020 and the Council of Europe (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights urged Croatia to publish it. Yet, the report was still not publicly available as of April 2021.
- Access to legal assistance for detained irregular migrants: In 2020, the Ombudsperson initiated an investigation related to access to free legal aid for irregular migrants detained in the Reception Centre for foreigners in Ježevo. It revealed that detainees did not seem to be aware of to the right to free legal aid neither whom to contact for legal information and/or legal assistance. It was therefore recommended that information on free legal aid should be provided in different languages in the Centre and that information should be provided to each migrant that is issued a return decision.
Content of international protection
- Lack of integration: Similarly to previous years, beneficiaries of international protection face significant challenges in exercising their rights. The most important issues still relate to the language barrier, health care, employment, education and housing. Although the previous Integration Action Plan expired at the end of 2019, a new Integration Action Plan was still not adopted in 2020. COVID-19 further hampered the access to the labour market and to housing, thereby putting beneficiaries of international protection at risk of homelessness. A Working Group of the Permanent Commission for the Implementation of Integration of Foreigners in Croatian Society was further established in 2020. Among others things, the Working group prepares proposals for national strategies in the field of integration and ensures the operational implementation of planned tasks, and also reports to the Permanent Commission on the implementation and progress related to the implementation of planned activities.
- Hate speech and discrimination: During 2020, hate speech against applicants for international protection and beneficiaries of international protection continued to be reported. In September 2020, an acceptance Index placed Croatia on the 4th place of the least accepting countries for migrants in the world.
 Article 22 paragraph 2 of the Croatian Constitution reads: No one shall be deprived of liberty, nor may liberty be restricted, except when specified by law, upon which a court shall decide.