Conditions in reception facilities

Croatia

Country Report: Conditions in reception facilities Last updated: 27/05/21

Author

Croatian Law Centre Visit Website

Accommodation of applicants is organised in the two reception centres for applicants of international protection, one in Zagreb and the other in Kutina.

The Reception Centre in Kutina has been renovated and was reopened in June 2014. The Reception Centre in Kutina is primarily aimed at the accommodation of vulnerable applicants, but it also accommodation resettled refugees throughout 2019 until they were allocated to another accommodation place. The Reception Centre in Zagreb was renovated in 2019, subsequently improving the living conditions in the centre.

According to the website of the Ministry of Interior, access to Reception centres for applicants of International Protection in Zagreb and Kutina was temporarily restricted for persons who are not necessary to the normal functioning of these facilities as of mid-March 2020 due to COVID-19 situation.[1]  Applicants accommodated in the reception centres were informed about the occurrence of the disease and the measures that need to be taken to prevent its further spread. Leaflets with instructions from the Croatian Institute of Public Health were translated into languages used by applicants and posted in visible places in the facilities so information on the importance of prevention and self-isolation was made accessible to all.

In 2020, due to COVID-19, one part of the Reception Centre in Zagreb has been arranged as a self-isolation space in order to reduce the possibility of spreading COVID-19 and protect other applicants and employees of the Ministry of Interior as well as organisations working in the Reception Centres. Also, during some periods of 2020, the work was organised in 2 weeks shifts. Additional disinfectants had been placed in the entire building. The temperature was measured at the entrance to the restaurant, and disinfection measures were intensified in the restaurant, while the opening hours of the restaurant have been extended.

According to information from the Initiative Welcome at the beginning of the pandemic, applicants were not allowed to go outside, civil society organisations had to suspend their activities in the centres and only staff of the Croatian Red Cross and MdM (Doctors of the World) could enter the facilities.[2] In addition, a fence was built around the open Porin Reception Centre for Applicants of International Protection in Zagreb amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Residents of the centre published a letter in which they expressed concern that the fence would create even more division, panic and intolerance.[3] However in the course of 2020, restriction of freedom of movement in terms of going in or out of the Receptions Centres due to COVID 19 was not introduced for applicants.

In March 2020, access to Reception Centres for Applicants of International Protection became subject to visitation restrictions, i.e. only personnel of the Ministry of Interior necessary for the normal functioning of the Centre was allowed entrance to the facilities meaning that civil society organizations had to stop with their activities in the centres, with the exception of the Croatian Red Cross and MdM.[4]

 Employees of the Ministry of Interior, the Croatian Red Cross and Medicines du Monde were working in 14-days shifts for two months, but resumed their regular work in the Reception Centres in Zagreb and Kutina on 11 May 2020. Restrictions for nonessential entries to the centres remained in place until the end of 2020.[5]

Centre for Peace Studies reported that applicants for international protection told them about the problematic conditions of the self-isolation part within the Reception Centre  for Applicants of  International Protection in Zagreb – where persons in self-isolation are accommodated in a crowded space (often one family per room) as a result of which distancing rules can not be respected.[6]

Overall living conditions

Applicants can go outside whenever they want, but have to be back by 11 pm. Under the House Rules the return to Centre after 11pm is possible with the permission of the officials of the Reception Centre. If they want to leave the centre for a few days, they also have to get permission from the Reception Centre.[7]

In second quarter of 2020, the NGO Rehabilitation Centre from Stress and Trauma raised concerns about the reception conditions of applicants for international protection. These included the lack of effective identification mechanisms for possible torture victims; restricted freedom of movement to prevent the spread of COVID-19; suspended integration activities; and restricted access to education for those young applicants who are outside the regular educational system.[8]

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, UNHCR procured hand and surface sanitizers for reception centers in Zagreb and Kutina in order to contribute to the government efforts in maintaining adequate hygiene measures. The sanitizers were also donated to homes in Zagreb and Split that care for unaccompanied and separated children (UASC).[9]

State of facilities

People in the reception centres share rooms. In Kutina, families share a room, unaccompanied children and single women are accommodated separately in rooms, while in Zagreb a maximum 4 persons can share a room.[10] Families are accommodated in the same room, but in Zagreb if there are more than 5 members of one family, they are given 2 rooms if possible.[11] There are sufficient showers and toilets and facilities are cleaned on a regular basis.

As reported by the Croatian Red Cross, after the renovation of Reception Centre in Zagreb in 2019, the overall living conditions have improved greatly.

Food and religious practice

In both centres, residents receive three meals per day and pregnant women, recent mothers and children up to 16 years shall be also provided with an afternoon snack.[12]

Kitchens, equipped by the Croatian Red Cross, where applicants can prepare meals by themselves, are provided in the Reception Centres in Kutina,[13] and in Zagreb.[14]

No problems were reported in connection to the possibility of practicing religion. In the Reception Centre in Zagreb, there is a room for Muslim applicants to pray. In Kutina, applicants can practice their religion in their rooms.

The Islamic Religious Community in Croatia, takes care of the spiritual and other needs of applicants for international protection of the Muslim religion, e.g. by cooperating with officials at the Reception Centres for Applicants for International Protection in Zagreb in order to provide psychosocial support, religious ceremonies as well as other activities.[15]

Activities in the centres

The staff of the Ministry of Interior working in the reception centres was generally sufficient. In 2020, the main challenges resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to reception centres was restricted from March 2020 until the end of 2020, with the exception of personnel of the Ministry of Interior, Croatian Red Cross and MdM who ensured the normal functioning of the facilities.[16]  According to information provided by the Initiative Welcome, other civil society organisations, apart from CRC and MdM, had to suspend their activities in the centres.[17] In 2020, as in previous years, most of the applicants did not stay for long periods in the Reception Centres as they were in transit and were leaving the Centre.

The Croatian Red Cross (CRC) has been implementing a programme of psychosocial assistance and protection for applicants for international protection in Reception Centres  since 2003. The Assistance and Protection Programme seeks to respond to the psychosocial, educational and humanitarian needs of applicants for international protection during their stay in reception centres and, with their active participation in planning, to offer quality programs tailored to their interests, age and cultural values. The main areas of work of the Croatian Red Cross in both centres in Zagreb and Kutina are the following:

  • organisation of daily life and practical assistance,
  • individual and group psychosocial support,
  • organisation of social, educational and sports activities,
  • special care for vulnerable groups (children, among them especially unaccompanied and separated children, women, people with health and mental health problems, survivors of torture and trauma),
  • advocacy to improve the reception and care of asylum applicants.[18]

In 2020, CRC continued to carry out activities with applicants for international protection in Reception Centres in Zagreb and Kutina.[19] Applicants were provided with psychosocial support and social activities were organised. CRC also provided assistance in the implementation of the medical programme in Reception Centres. Until the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to CRC, all applicants, regardless of gender and age, were involved in the activities. At the beginning of 2020, there was an increased interest in social activities compared to the previous year, especially since CRC conducts activities from 8 am to 8 pm from Monday to Friday and is on duty on weekends and holidays from 8 am to 2 pm. For most of 2020, CRC worked in two teams that alternated at intervals of 14 days.

During the pandemic, CRC’s activities with applicants were significantly reduced, especially with adults. In agreement with the head of the Reception Centres it was decided that the following activities would continue: reception and accommodation of applicants (including distribution of hygiene items and other necessities), psychosocial support, providing  assistance with TV and online classes for children attending local schools and assistance in learning and homework, arranging the environment around Reception Centre and interior of the Centre, increased care for personal hygiene of applicants and medical assistance according to MDM’s instructions and procurement of medicines. Focus was also given to the hygiene within the premises of the Reception Centre. Joint activities for adults such as creative workshops, Croatian language workshop, football, gym, technical workshop, various health and hygiene workshops and participation of applicants in local community events were completely suspended as directed by the head of the Reception Centre and the Ministry of Interior. During the year, it was noticed by CRC that applicants were missing those activities because activities had helped them to expand their social network and contributed to strengthen their self-esteem, control and responsibility. CRC noticed that; due to the new circumstances, applicants were more insecure about their future life.

AYS reported that they had access to the Reception Centre until 17 March 2020, after which all providers of activities who have signed agreements with the Ministry of Interior had to suspend their activities in the Centre due to the spread of COVID 19. [20]  Upon expiration of the agrement signed between AYS and the Ministry of Interior, in August 2020,  the  agreement was not extended due to epidemiological measures in place. Also AYS stressed that due to epidemiological situation and measures in place, lack of integration activities and support for asylum seeking children when integrating into the school system, was observed. Another problem, reported by AYS was the lack of free internet services (WiFi) within centres, after the introduction of  epidemiological measures. Before that, applicants had usually used the wifi , which in practice, was  available in the hallways, which was not possible after the spread of COVID 19.

Moreover, AYS provided support in learning Croatian language. In the period between 25 November 2019 and 1 August 2020, AYS held informal initial Croatian language course for both applicants of international protection and persons who were granted international protection. Although initially the course was held in live, they were subsequently held online through the ZOOM platform due to the pandemic. The course was led by volunteers which are professors of Croatian language. As mentioned above, AYS pointed out to the lack of internet access in the reception centres, making it difficult for applicants to access many of the programmes, which were due to epidemiological conditions switched online. As a result, AYS  provided participants in their language courses with vouchers for cell phones in order to follow the course.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) reported that due to measures introduced to combat the spread of the COVID-19 during 2020, they had been prevented from carrying out their legal counseling activities in the Reception Centre in Zagreb. As a result, a significant number of applicants  did not have access to free legal aid.[21]

Moreover, UNICEF had reported that, at the end of 2019, a short-term contract was signed with JRS (valid until April 2020) which foresees funding for the re-establishment of a child-friendly space (CFS).[22]  Through the CFS, appropriate educational activities for children are provided on a day-to day basis, as well as psychosocial support with a special focus on child protection and effective cooperation with other competent services for the treatment of children in accordance with their best interests. UNICEF advocates that special attention should be paid to the needs of children when organising and planning services in the Reception Centres, and that funding should be provided through the AMIF for the functioning of the CFS.

In 2020, JRS reported that it carried out daily activities in the CFS of the Reception Centre for Applicants of International Protection in Zagreb until March 2020, in cooperation with UNICEF Croatia.[23]  Activities included educational, psychosocial, creative and sports programmes, providing support to refugee children. Due to the pandemic, their work with children at the CFS has been temporarily suspended, until the epidemiological situation improves. JRS also issued a Handbook for working with refugee children, in order to share their experience of working with refugee children and to combine practical knowledge and skills with professional theoretical knowledge. The handbook is available online in Croatian and English.[24]

The Croatian Law Centre (CLC) was present in the Reception Centres until the end of March 2020 when the project “Legal Counselling in the Procedure of Granting International Protection” financed by AMIF has ended (see Legal assistance). The project was aimed at providing legal information on the procedure of granting international protection and CLC lawyers were providing legal counseling to interested applicants 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 organized when needed.  After the end of the project, CLC continued to provide legal aid to applicants however due to pandemic mostly through telephone and e-mail, although in specific cases meetings with clients were also held in CLC premises. In addition, following the COVID-19 outbreak and the powerful earthquake that Zagreb experienced on 22 March 2020, CLC published on its website the instructions issued by the National Civil Protection Authority on how to react in the case of an earthquake. The instructions are available in Croatian and Arabic (the latter was translated by the Croatian Red Cross and Médecins du Monde). [25] In addition multilingual leaflets of the Croatian Institute of Public Health on prevention COVID-19, prepared by Médecins du Monde and the Croatian Red Cross, were also advertised on CLC’s website.[26]

In 2020, the the Rehabilitation Centre for Stress and Trauma (RCT) did not implement direct activities with applicants for international protection due to the pandemic, which is why they reduced direct contact activities including individual counseling in their offices.[27] In addition, in the course of 2020 RCT did not secure funding for activities with applicants for international protection, so there were no reasons to renew the expired agreement with the Ministry of Interior for  the implementation of activities in Reception centre for applicants for international protection.

In 2020, as a response to COVID 19, school classes were organised online during certain periods, and educational or school programmes were broadcasted on television for younger children as the Croatian Ministry of Science and Education’s Action plan included a combination of remote and face-to-face teaching. According to the Croatian Red Cross, asylum-seeking children were able to use the computer room in the Reception Centre in Zagreb to attend online classes[28] The possibility for children in reception centres to follow school programmes broadcast on television was introduced by the government.[29]

To support effective access to education of asylum-seeking children under remote learning arrangements, UNHCR donated computers and a TV set to the Reception Centre in Kutina, to complement the existing capacities.[30] However, the educational system in Croatia faced serious challenges during the COVID-19 lockdown, as online schools did not pay special attention to those who are still learning Croatian, including applicants for international protection and refugees.[31]Are you Syrious reported that after the transition to online classes, preparatory classes for children who do not know or do not know enough of Croatian language were not organized neither online or in any other form (for example, as part of the programme “School on the third” which was broadcasted on television), which is why asylum seeking children have lost a lot of time for learning the Croatian language.[32]

Centre for Peace Studies (CPS) did not have access to the Reception Centre, so most of their activities targeting applicants for international protection took place in their premises or in premises of collaborating organisations or mostly in an online format due to the epidemiological situation in 2020. In 2020, employees and volunteers of the CPS provided applicants for international protection with information on the system of international protection, as well as with legal support and counselling. In addition, they provided support in learning the Croatian language, securing a job, held a course on social entrepreneurship and provided information about life in Croatia as well as general psychosocial support. Volunteer lawyers provided legal information to applicants in relation to their procedure for international protection and other status-related issues, under the mentorship of the CPS’s lawyer.[33]

IOM implemented the voluntary return and reintegration programme (AVRR.hr) during the first quarter of 2020 in Reception Centres for applicants for international protection in Zagreb and Kutina.[34] After the outbreak of the pandemic, information and counselling on return were provided by telephone and through other communication applications. IOM produced bilingual leaflets about the AVRR.hr programme (English/Croatian, English/French, English/Arabic, English/Farsi and English/Urdu) and trilingual posters (English/Croatian/French, English/ Arabic/Farsi and English/Urdu /Pashto). In addition, IOM conducted information campaigns on the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence for persons accommodated in the Reception Centres in Zagreb and Kutina. Given that those activities were completed before the start of the pandemic, more precisely by mid-March 2020, there was no need to adjust the activities after the outbreak.

Duration of stay in the centres

No information on the average length of stay in the reception centres in 2019 and 2020 is available, while it reached 3 months on average in 2018. However, in practice, applicants do not stay for long periods in reception centres as most of them leave the country after a few weeks. Croatia is still a transit country and it is estimated that more than 70-80% of applicants for international protection leave the country approximately a few weeks after having lodged their application for international protection.

In the regular procedure, applicants can be accommodated in the Reception Centre until the completion of the procedure and a final decision is taken on the case (at first instance and during the administrative dispute). When a final negative decision on the application for international protection has been taken and the time for executing the order to leave the country has elapsed, the right to receiving reception conditions ends.

 

 

[1] Ministry of Interior, ‘Applicants for International Protection in the Republic of Croatia are not infected with the coronavirus’, 18 March 2020, available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/3gragjA.

[2] Information provided by Initiative Welcome on 20 March 2020

[3] FRA, Migration: Key Fundamental Rights Concerns, Ouarterly bulletin (1.1.2020 – 31.3.2020), available at: https://bit.ly/3niFZVT.

[4] Ministry of Interior, Applicants for international protection in the Republic of Croatia are not infected with the coronavirus, 18 March 2020 available at: https://bit.ly/3xgvIOf.

[5]  UNHCR, Croatia Update, May 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3n86soS.

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

[7]  Article 56(6) LITP.

[8]  FRA, Migration: Key fundamental rights concerns – Quarterly bulletin 3 – 2020 (1.4.2020 – 30.6.2020), available at: https://bit.ly/3ayiumt.

[9]  UNHCR, Croatia Update –COVID-19 response, available at: https://bit.ly/3nlR1cZ.

[10]  Information provided by the Croatian Red Cross, 18 March 2019.

[11]  Information provided by the Croatian Red Cross, 18 March 2019.

[12]  Article 20 Ordinance on the Realisation of Material Reception Conditions.

[13] Information provided by the Croatian Red Cross, 18 March 2019.

[14] Information provided by the Croatian Red Cross, 20 December 2019.

[15] Ministry of Interior, ‘Working together to successfully integrate asylum seekers’, 3 March 2019, available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/34f1kWp.

[16] Ministry of Interior, ‘Applicants for International Protection in the Republic of Croatia are not infected with the coronavirus’, 18 March 2020, available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/3tFPPU4.

[17]  Information provided by Initiative Welcome on 20 March 2020

[18]  UNHCR: Reception centers and other helpful services, available at: https://bit.ly/3tIfGuy.

[19]  Information provided by Croatian Red Cross, 2 March 2021.

[20] Information provided by Are you Syrious, 2 February 2021

[21] Information provided by JRS  12 January 2021.

[22]  Information provided by UNICEF, 8 January 2020.

[23]  Information provided by JRS, 12 January 2021.

[24]  JRS, Handbook working with refugee children, 2020, availlable in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/3nadF7I; and in English at: https://bit.ly/3dFR4wP.

[25] Instructions in case of an earthquake of the National Civil Protection Authority in Croatian, March 2020, available in Croatian at: https://bit.ly/3eou4Bv, and in Arabic at: https://bit.ly/3xixX3y.

[26] Informative multilingual leaflets on coronavirus, available at: https://bit.ly/2RXavZF.

[27]  Information provided by the Rehabilitation Centre for Stress and Trauma,7 February 2021.

[28]  EMN, Migration Bulletin, February 2021 available at: https://bit.ly/2RKgCAj.

[29] FRA, Coronavirus pandemic in the EU – Fundamental Rights Implications – Bulletin 1, 8 April 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/32Ff2Su.

[30] UNHCR: Croatia – May Update 2020, available at: https://bit.ly/3nm0mBz.

[31]  FRA, Migration: Key fundamental rights concerns – Quarterly bulletin 3 – 2020 (1.4.2020 – 30.6.2020), available at: https://bit.ly/3n94VyK.

[32]  Information provided by Are you Syrious,2 February 2021.

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

[34]  Information provided by IOM, 30 December 2020.

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