Democracy & Justice

Croatian Rights Groups: Systematic Violence Against Refugees Must Stop!

The violent and illegal expulsions of refugees by Croatian police have not stopped despite warnings from the ombudswoman, NGOs, international organizations and the media.

by Lovorka Šošić

Statements from refugees confirm that Croatian police do not allow them to seek asylum in Croatia if they enter the country in an irregular way. Contrary to national and international law, Croatian police return them to neighboring countries, often using violence.

A systematic and unlawful campaign

For this reason, on 28 February civil society organizations in the country presented their Fourth Report on the Violent and Illegal Displacement of Refugees from the Republic of Croatia. This is the fourth report in a year since the push-backs became more visible and attracted the attention of organizations working with refugees on a daily basis. It is a result of months of collaboration by several organizations, collectives and initiatives: Are You Syrious?, No Name Kitchen, Centre for Peace Studies and the Welcome! initiative.

Julija Kranjec from the Centre for Peace Studies and Welcome! has warned that, given the frequency and patterns of police treatment, what occur are not isolated and sporadic cases of illegal expulsion under a benign strategy of "deterrence," but a planned and systematic campaign of deprivation of liberty without legal basis, denial of access to international protection and the violation of the principle of non-refoulement.

"The organization Are You Syrious? has been contacted by refugees, including whole families, mothers with many children, people with disabilities and those who are sick, those who are seeking help even in the middle of the night. They don't turn to the police for help because they are afraid, despite the fact that they have asked for asylum," said Tajana Tadić.

No change in behavior

This is also confirmed by No Name Kitchen, which collects evidence of violations of refugees' rights in Serbia. Volunteer Lydia Cerver stressed, however, that although testimonies have been collected since the middle of 2017, most of those that are in the report are from January and February of this year, indicating that police actions against refugees have not changed, despite warnings.

Moreover, she emphasizes that recently, the cooperation between Serbian and Croatian police and the judiciary is more visible - Croatia pushes back and Serbia is punishing refugees and detaining them because of the illegal border crossings, regardless of the fact that they have applied for asylum.

Therefore, organizations call on the Ministry of Interior and the Police Directorate to immediately disclose and withdraw the orders that authorize such conduct. They also call on the State Attorney's Office to conduct an impartial and effective investigation into the ombudswoman's allegations of illegal police actions, and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković to clearly dissociate from this kind of police action and initiate a new policy towards refugees within the framework of domestic and international law.

The audio of calls from the refugees who were asking for help was also presented at the press conference.

The report is available here.