Rights Groups: Croatian Police Broke the Law in Events Leading to Refugee Girl's Death

The family of Madina Hussiny, the six-year-old girl who died a month ago at the Serbia-Croatia border, has filed a criminal charge against unknown police officers from the Croatian Ministry of the Interior.

The family says that before the accident, they we already in Croatia and had applied for asylum, but the police violated their right to access international protection and instead took them to railroad tracks, instructing them to follow the tracks until they reached Serbia. According to the mother's testimony, Madina was not the only child that Croatian police had attempted to return to Serbia that day. She was accompanied by five more children - from two to 15 years old.

An illegal and deadly decision

Therefore, the criminal complaint that was filed on 21 December at the Croatian State Attorney's Office says that the unknown police officers from the Interior Ministry caused the death of Madina because of neglect, that they grossly violated the rights of the child, abused their position and power and caused, by inhuman treatment, severe mental pain and suffering to the family due their social position.

The lawyer of the family, Sanja Bezbradica Jelavić, explains: "The family was found with six children on the border of Croatia and they requested asylum and protection. The police refused to comply with the regulations and officers told the family to follow the railway and return to Serbian territory. They refused the plight of the mother to allow her to spend the night there because the children are tired and cold, and that had deadly consequences."

Human rights organisations also convey the message of the family. They say that they have filed a criminal complaint not only because of this family, but because of all other children and people who are in a similar situation, so that this kind of tragedy doesn't happen to anybody else.

Police walk 'a fine line'

Croatian and international rights organisations have been warning for roughly a year about the behaviour of the border police, who, as the refugees say, continue to violate national and international law.

Tajana Tadić from the organisation Are You Syrious says: "In the three reports that we published this year, we have shown the ways in which refugees in Croatia are systematically denied access to international protection, to such an extent that the refugees with whom we talked in Šid think that the system of asylum in Croatia does not exist anymore.

Border police officials admit that the force does not allow refugees to enter Croatia, but they call it deterrence.

"There is a fine line between deterrence and push-back," warns Gordan Bosanac of the Centre for Peace Studies (CMS). "On one hand, the policemen, by their very presence at the border, give notice of where the border is, and because of that, the EU thinks that those who don't need protection would give up on any attempt to cross it. On the other, there is the fact that push-backs or the return of people who want to apply for asylum violates human rights and is against the law."

He says that "because of the lack of independent and effective oversight of police work, officers are in an unfairly favorable position, where it's their word against the word of refugees". Bosanac recalled that for months now the parliamentary committees have not appointed members of civilan committees for police and security service oversight. He also called the police to publish the full recordings of the thermovision cameras to prove that the family was not in the Croatian territory.

Rogue behaviour

Finally, organisations emphasise that they believe that this criminal complaint is not directed towards the police as a whole, but against the unprofessional behaviour of individuals.

"We are aware that among police officers, there are very professional people who do not support these kind of actions and condemn them. If this treatment of refugees is the order they got, we encourage them to resist. It is also in the interest of professional police officers that this case is explained as soon as possible and that the responsible individuals are punished," says Bosanac.

In this case, the family is also supported by the organisations Asylum Protection Center (Centar za zaštitu i pomoć tražiocima azila), Are You Syrious and CMS.