Call for Croatia to Be Kept out of Schengen Until it Improves Asylum Practices

Croatia has received the green light from the European Commission to enter the border-free Schengen Area, but nine organisations and initiatives working with the victims of border violence have made their objections clear.

A number of organisations have called for Croatia’s Schengen membership to be made conditional on the Croatian Government stopping its illegal and violent push-back of migrants. This practice not only directly violates provisions of the Schengen Border Code, but also represents a violation of international and EU law, including the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees. The organisations that made this call are Border Violence Monitoring, the Centre for Peace Studies Zagreb, Are You Syrious, the Welcome! Initiative, Rigardu, Refugee Aid Serbia, Mobile Info Team, Re:ports Sarajevo and the Asylum Protection Center.

Organisations warn of illegal border practices

For the past three years, civil society organisations and activists from Croatia (Welcome Initiative, Are You Syrious, Centre for Peace Studies), the Ombudsperson's Office, and a variety of international governmental and non-governmental actors (UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Council for Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Asylum Protection Center) have been warning about the illegal and violent police practices being used on refugees and migrants trying to enter Croatia from the borders with Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Anonymous letter from police officer confirms actions at border

Activists and volunteers from the Border Violence Monitoring Network working in the border areas in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have been collecting testimonies from refugees and migrants, and publishing reports that describe these illegal actions and define trends. The action taken by the police is structural and intentional, and includes denying people entry to Croatia and pushing them back to neighbouring countries outside of any established procedures or access to any international protection system, often using force and violence. There are no mechanisms for monitoring police conduct and there is a total lack of official supervision of officer behaviour. The National Preventive Mechanism has also essentially been disabled. Police practices remain unsanctioned by responsible bodies, even after a police officer anonymously published letter of that confirmed these illegal practices.

International bodies involved while Croatian institutions fail to act

However, international bodies have started to make a stand. An administrative court in Switzerland suspended a Dublin transfer to Croatia due to the current practices of summary returns. There is also an important case pending before the European Court of Human Rights. This case, M.H. and others v Croatia, concerns an Afghan family, whose child was hit by a train and died while the family was being pushed back from Croatia to Serbia.

These should be taken into consideration when deciding whether Croatia has fulfilled all the conditions to join the Schengen area. All candidate countries have to undergo the Schengen evaluation, which includes all parts of the Schengen acquis. Croatia is not respecting nor applying relevant international law standards and the Schengen Border Code (SBC).

Croatia should not be allow into Schengen until a fair an efficient asylum system is in place

Croatia is currently violating Article 13 of the SBC which provisions: “A person who has crossed a border illegally and who has no right to stay on the territory of the Member State concerned shall be apprehended and made subject to procedures respecting Directive 2008/115/EC”.

Procedures of the mentioned Directive are envisaged to ensure a fair and efficient asylum system is in place to respect the principle of non-refoulement; and placement in specialised facilities in a humane and dignified manner with respect for fundamental rights and in compliance with international and national law.

International and national legislation is not only being violated on Croatia’s borders, but also across the country. Testimonies from refugees and migrants regarding detention facilities in Korenica and Zagreb, along with the systematised techniques used in pushback procedures, show that Croatia is still not ready to maintain its borders while observing international legal standards and the Schengen aquis. Therefore it should not be given approval to join the Schengen area until it stops these practices and is sanctioned.

The Croatian Government and the Ministry of the Interior will prove the political will to respect the human rights of migrants, and that the relevant European bodies will insist on the dismissal of these obstacles as a requirement for Croatia to become a part of Schengen within a reasonable time, the organisations concluded.