On Friday 5 June, Centre for Peace Studies filed a criminal complaint to the State Attorney’s Office in Zagreb against unknown perpetrators police officers for the degrading treatment and torture of 33 people and their violent, illegal expulsion from Croatia to Bosnia-Herzegovina. These are four different/separated cases combined into one criminal complaint. In fact, among other things, all victims suffered torture and degrading treatment: according to their testimonies, the police marked them with permanent, orange spray all over their heads.
For almost four years now, people who come to Croatia in search of safety have systematically been exposed to even greater risk, embodied in the illegal and inhuman practices of the Ministry of Interior and its orders, through which refugees are being violently pushed back with the use of batons, guns, punches, violating human dignity and safety by exposing refugees in the middle of the forest and taking away everything they have. In early May, a new, deeply humiliating element was added to this practice – marking refugees and other migrants with a permanent, orange spray cross over their heads.
Pushback and violent behaviors by police officials are not happening just in Croatia. In the last weeks, there have been several testimonies on how Italy has started to push people back to Slovenia, which pushes them back to Croatia, and then to Bosnia-Herzegovina. We are talking about chain-pushbacks, endless nightmares that are not in the dreams but in the realities of people who are looking for safety in Europe. On this AYS special, you can read more on how Italian Court Stops Deportation to Slovenia, Meanwhile Pushbacks Continue.
Welcome! Initiatives got updates from independent volunteers in Bosnia-Herzegovina, who reports that the situation in Bihać is getting worse for people on the move and the local population, while the politicians and responsible organizations are locked in a power struggle.
The situation inside the camps is still very critical: When people are pushed back from Croatian police and try to get back into the camp, the police chases them away and the camp management and humanitarian organizations working in the camp seem to be powerless. Volunteers report that some people jump the fence into the camp but they are then blacklisted, denied food, or thrown out again by security. So there are more and more people living outside in abandoned buildings and in the „jungle“ again. This includes unaccompanied minors.
This week, the police drove an entire bus with people to Lipa, without giving them a chance to get their things. Once arrived, the camp management did not let them into the camp saying there was no space. This resulted in leaving people on the move in the middle of nowhere with one small overpriced market and some entrepreneurs who cook and sell food. No toilets, beds, showers, shelter.
Another worrying news came from Bosnia-Herzegovina: On May 18, the Crisis Committee of the Una-Sana Kanton issued a 7-point cluster of “decisions”. The final decree in the list was to forbid organizations and individuals from engaging in humanitarian work with people on the move unless they are under the direct control of IOM or Red Cross. They also forbid „activities in wild camps.“ Did this mean volunteers or even registered associations not working in the IOM-run camps could not give people food and clothes? Not even on the street or places other than the squats? No one had an answer. Independent volunteers from BiH reports that after they consulted with lawyers, they confirmed that this decree has no legal basis. On this matter, please read and sign the Letter of support written by activists from all over the region together in the Transbalkan Solidarity collective. Welcome Initiative strongly supports TS, and strongly condemns all forms of pressure, criticism, depreciation, disqualification, and discrediting of activists who unreservedly criticize evident violations of human rights and freedoms.
Take a look also at the collective reflection from the Transnational Collective against Deportations on covid and migration: “Solidarity first. Really? How COVID-19 affects detention and deportation regimes across Europe. COVID-19 is pushing countries around the globe into both an economic and a public health crisis – the virus is affecting the whole world. Still, national responses dominate. In Europe, governments have promoted „solidarity“ and a prioritization of public health, while at the same time restricting social life, freedom of movement and public liberties. This „solidarity“ however is unequal, public health is more public for some than others and the same restrictions have different effects for different parts of society. COVID-19 reminds us: some bodies are currently considered worth protecting and healing and some are excluded from prevention, let alone care. Some who met at the TSC shared with us their reflections on what COVID means for migrants in detention centers around Fortress Europe, what the treatment of detainees says about solidarity during corona-times and how people stand up against these injustices.
Hierzu auch das ECRE Weekly-Bulletin vom 05.06.:
The Guardian reveals new details of Croatian authorities’ push-back operations at the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina between 6 and 7 of May 2020, involving more than 30 people, mainly from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
According to the testimonies collected by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), people were forced to enter in a van around Rijeka and driven to the border with Bosnia although some of them requested to apply for asylum. At the border, they underwent different kinds of humiliations by the police including beatings, burning of their belongings. Some officers used spay-painting on their heads while laughing and drinking beers before they were pushed back to the other side of the border.
A report by the Centre for Peace Studies and the Welcome! Initiative “Report on violent and illegal expulsion of children and unaccompanied minors” published at the end of May documented the repeated use of violence at the borders also against children.
According to the 2019 Aida Country Report on Croatia, between January and November 2019, the Croatian police pushed back 1,514 people by force. The report states: “While concrete tactics vary in practice, some common patterns include the capture of people on the move, the confiscation of their properties, especially communication equipment, beating with batons and chasing by dogs with the purpose of physically exhausting migrants and prevent them from attempting another crossing. A number of male migrants were reportedly stripped, beaten and forced to walk back to Bosnia and Herzegovina barefoot”.
Although the evidence collected by NGOs on the field and the concern expressed by UNHCR, the Croatian Ministry of Interior turned down the allegations and commented: “We find it highly probable that thousands of migrants are ready to use all means at their disposal to accomplish their goal, including giving false testimonies”.
For further information:
ECRE, Croatia: New Report on Torture of Asylum Seekers by Authorities, January 2020
ECRE, Editorial: Croatia’s Schengen Accession: Reinforcing Legal Red Lines Not Borders, October 2019
AIDA, Country Update Croatia 2019, April 2020
Über das Push-Back minderjähriger Geflüchteter hatte die Welcome! Initiative bereits am 01.06. berichtet:
Today in Zagreb, in front of the Government of the Republic of Croatia, the Report on the Illegal Pushback of Unaccompanied Children in Croatia was presented by the Border Violence Monitoring Network, the Centre for Peace Studies, the Society for Psychological Assistance and the Welcome Initiative. The report talks about the illegal and violent pushbacks of children and the consequences of ignoring this violence. The Society for Psychological Assistance pointed out that the dignity of children is important and that children are in a formative phase in which these experiences influence the formation of their identity. That is why it is important to face this violence, stop it, and provide support to children who have been traumatized by it. The organizations that wrote the report demanded that the Government of the Republic of Croatia and the Ministry of the Interior take responsibility that those who order and carry out violence be sanctioned, and that independent investigation be conducted. Together with the report, a comic about Madina was presented – Madina was a six-year-old girl who died during illegal pushback from Croatia. The comic was created precisely so that we do not forget the consequence of this policy.
This week, the European Court of Human Rights launched proceedings against Croatia on suspicion of inhumane treatment of migrants: three Syrians who filed a lawsuit. One of them is a 17-year-old Syrian boy who, despite seeking asylum in Croatia, was pushed back to Bosnia and Herzegovina, experiencing illegal detention and inhumane treatment by the Croatian police.
The Danish Refugee Council, which works on a daily basis in BiH, confirmed the allegations made last week by migrants illegally pushed back to BiH from Croatia, experiencing inhumane treatment when Croatian police spray-painted orange crosses on their heads.
Slovenian media report on the case of a person holding Italian and Slovenian citizenship that was walking in the woods accompanied by his partner and was stopped at gunpoint by a member of the Slovenian military. Such violent acts, which are taking place in many EU member states, were the reason for the court in Genoa to suspend one Dublin transfer. Evidence of brutalities occurring at the border as well as the risk of chain returns to other countries where similar practices occur (Croatia) were taken into account.
Are You Syrious Association, the Solidarna Foundation and the Bruketa & Žinić & Gray agency have launched a campaign to provide emergency financial support to children and adults from 40 refugee households in Croatia at risk of homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign seeks to raise HRK 120,000 to provide them with urgent, temporary financial support for a month’s rent or basic food and hygiene supplies, and the Are You Syrious Association has meanwhile supported them in seeking new employment.
Trans-Balkan Solidarity has called on the public to take part in a 48-hour “return-the-bullets-back” protest campaign aimed at the European Union and its decision-makers (European Parliament, European Council, European Commission, and EU Council) responsible for funding acts of systemic violence that produce crimes against humanity.
Individuals who have been suffering for months due to the development of the situation in migrant camps in BiH, have decided to organize an action that we invite you to support and get involved in. Their call reads: „For those who are not yet aware of the seriousness of the situation, in the area of Velika Kladuša, about a hundred kilometers from Zagreb, more than a thousand people are literally stuck in inhumane conditions in official and“ wild „camps. When it seemed that the situation could not be worse, the cross-border crossings through which humanitarian aid was being delivered were closed due to coronavirus. Since we really can no longer silently observe a hopeless situation that we consider a disgrace and a responsibility of us all, we decided to do what we can to help our distant brothers and sisters survive. In agreement with local activists, we have compiled an attached list of essentials. We appreciate your help. We will collect donations from May 29th, 2020. at the address 29 Ilica Street, across from the office of the Volunteer Centre Zagreb, from Monday to Friday, 12-16 h. If that time does not suit you, we will be happy to arrange another date or method of collection.“
Welcome! Initiative, 01.06.20