Croatia ‘violently’ pushing back migrants to Bosnia: HRW
Border authorities in Croatia are engaging in violent migrant pushbacks and denying asylum rights to refugees, a report by Human Rights Watch has found.
Police are repeatedly turning asylum-seekers and migrants back to Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Afghans — including unaccompanied children and families — making up the largest proportion of arrivals.
The report also found that authorities in Croatia have sought to deny the practice and claim that they are maintaining their commitment to human rights.
Border police in Croatia have frequently stolen migrants’ property and submitted them to “humiliating and degrading” treatment, the report added.
HRW compiled a range of testimonies from migrants to bolster the report. Firooz, a 15-year-old Afghan, told the organization that Croatian police had assaulted him and another boy, as well as confiscated their money and belongings, before returning them to the Bosnian border. “They said if they caught us again, they would really beat us,” he added.
Croatia, an EU member, joined the Schengen Area — which generally allows free travel without border checks — in January this year.
But the pushback of migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina leaves people at the mercy of an “ineffective” system, HRW warned, citing Bosnia’s recognition of only five refugees in 2021.
Police commonly transport migrants to the border, away from regular posts and crossings, and force them to traverse dangerous routes back to Bosnia, often at night. Many of the migrants told HRW that they had been pushed back dozens of times.
The report’s author Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior children’s rights counsel at HRW, said: “Pushbacks have long been standard operating procedure for Croatia’s border police, and the Croatian government has bamboozled EU institutions through deflection and empty promises. These abhorrent abuses — and the official duplicity that facilitates them — should end.”
Croatia’s practice of migrant pushbacks violates international prohibitions on ill-treatment and collective expulsion, HRW warned.
Rozad, a 17-year-old Iraqi, said he and his family were subject to abuse when they first tried to enter Croatia.
He added: “A policeman took my phone from me and put it in his pocket ... I was surprised. I said, ‘What are you doing? That’s my phone.’
“He said, ‘Oh, it was yours. Now it belongs to me.’ I didn’t understand what was going on. I started yelling, and he beat me.
“They make you open the phone, and they go to the maps to see what you’ve marked. They check the photos. They look to see if there are any group chats.
“They want to see if you have had any contact with smugglers. Then, if they like the phone, they make you enter the code so they can restore all the factory settings, and they keep it.”