Tuesday, 7 December 2021

Serbian Civil Society Activists Accuse Croatian Police of Brutality Towards Migrants

ZAGREB, 7 Dec, 2021 - Currently there are over 4,000 Afghan refugees and migrants along the border between Serbia and Croatia, often encountering the brutality of the Croatian police after crossing the border, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation told a press conference in Belgrade on Monday. 

Vladan Jeremić, the Foundation's representative for Southeast Europe, said that collective expulsions, abuse and arbitrary arrests had been going on at the Serbian-Croatian border since 2016 despite the efforts by civil society organisation to prevent such things from happening.

Croatia denies accusations of inhumane treatment of migrants.

Jeremić said that the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation, which is close to the German leftwing party Die Linke, supported the report by Nikola Kovačević documenting human rights abuses on the Serbian-Croatian border. Its aim is to provide civil society organisations with guidance on how to document and legally oppose unlawful practices along the border between Serbia and Croatia.

Violent behaviour is not happening in cooperation with the Serbian police, but away from border crossing points, with migrants being beaten up, humiliated, dispossessed of their valuables, and threatened at gun point, said Milica Švabić of the Belgrade-based KlikAtiv Centre for Development of Social Policies.

She said that about 1,700 people are currently staying in three official migrant camps at the western town of Šid, while an estimated 4,000, including families and unaccompanied minors, are staying in abandoned buildings and in tents in the woods in the surrounding area. They are trying to cross the border almost every day, running the risk of violent push-backs.

The practice of illegal and violent push-backs of refugees from Croatia is still ongoing on a daily basis, Švabić said.

Although they are also being expelled from Hungary and Romania, refugees claim that the Croatian police is the most brutal in push-backs, Švabić said, adding that the refugees who have been expelled by the Croatian police regularly report having been beaten with truncheons and rifle-butts and many have suffered serious injuries, including fractures and head injuries.

Ana Ćuća from the Zagreb-based Centre for Peace Studies said that Croatia has used systematic violence against migrants since 2016, seizing their personal belongings and mobile phones, beating them, confining them in basements, and allowing police dogs to attack them.

Victims are not just adults, but children too. These are not individual cases, but orders from the political leadership, which often cannot be avoided, Ćuća said.

She said that civil society activists in Croatia are victims of police intimidation because they draw attention to human rights violations on the EU border, which, she added, makes the EU responsible too.

Ćuća said that the change in the EU migrant policy has resulted in violence, adding that more and more Croatian police officers are anonymously providing information on the structure of the system of violent and illegal expulsions of refugees.

This policy comes from Brussels and it can be ended only if EU member states and countries suffering the consequences of such a policy demand it.

Kovačević said that victims should get certain compensation for violence they are subjected to, and that those responsible for abuse should be identified and the government should also be held to account.

Kovačević is the recipient of the UNHCR Nansen Award 2021 for helping refugees.

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Thursday, 2 September 2021

Croatian Defence Minister Attends EU Ministerial Meeting on Afghanistan

ZAGREB, 2 Sept 2021 - Croatian Defence Minister Mario Banožić on Thursday took part in an informal meeting of EU defence ministers in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana, which focused on the situation in Afghanistan, the Croatian ministry said.

Banožić said at the meeting that lessons learned in Afghanistan should be applied in the common security and defence policy so as not to repeat the same mistakes.

"In cooperation with our partners, we must focus on the prevention of a humanitarian disaster in the form of uncontrolled migrations and make sure Afghanistan does not become a haven for terrorist organizations," he said.

As for the EU's operational engagement, Banožić said that support to partners in the Sahel, Libya, and the EU's immediate neighborhood was unquestionable but that at the same time one should make it clear that the partners were expected to implement the necessary political and security reforms.

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Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Božinović Says EU Should Prevent Mass Migration From Afghanistan

ZAGREB, 31 Aug, 2021 - The European Union should adopt a common position on preventing large migrant waves from Afghanistan, which does not exclude humanitarian aid to vulnerable groups in that country, Croatian Interior Minister Davor Božinović said in Brussels on Tuesday.

"I hope we will take a common position that would place emphasis on the fact that ultimately our goal is to prevent massive, large migrant waves. Croatia certainly holds that position," Božinović told reporters ahead of an extraordinary meeting of European home affairs ministers on Afghanistan.

"Of course, that doesn't exclude humanitarian aid to vulnerable groups, women, girls, children and those who worked for European institutions in Afghanistan," Božinović added.

EU home affairs ministers will discuss the situation in that country, which is again under the Taliban rule, and the possible consequences for the EU.

European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas stressed that the EU should use the Afghanistan crisis to finally agree on a common migration and asylum policy based on the Commission's proposals.

Now is the time for a political agreement on the migration pact, Schinas said upon arriving at the meeting.

The ministers are expected to issue a joint statement in which they will express determination to prevent illegal migrant waves and uncontrolled arrival of migrants from Afghanistan to the Union's external borders in order to prevent a recurrence of the 2015 migrant crisis.

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Monday, 30 August 2021

Minister: Croatia to Discuss with Its Partners whether to Take in More Afghans

ZAGREB, 30 Aug 2021 - Croatia will decide, in talks with its partners, whether to take in more Afghan nationals fleeing the Taliban rule, Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Sunday after the arrival of 19 Afghans who will seek and be granted asylum in Croatia. 

"We will see with our partners whether to take in more Afghan nationals," Grlić Radman told the public HTV broadcaster, adding that Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović would travel to Brussels next week to discuss migrations and refugees with other EU ministers.

Nineteen Afghan nationals - three families with children - arrived at Zagreb Airport on Saturday. The immigrants had worked as support staff for the Croatian mission in Afghanistan and had been vetted prior to their employment. The Ministry of the Interior has said that their identity will not be made known for the sake of their security.

"They have already been provided with accommodation... those three families include ten children, they are the most vulnerable group," said the minister.

"We have responded right away, in line with our possibilities and logistic conditions," Grlić Radman said.

He stressed that Afghanistan was faced with a major humanitarian crisis and that the situation in the country was changing the paradigm of global security.

"This will be a very sensitive security issue that will require multilateral action because we all want peace and stability in that part of the world," he said, adding that one could also hear that the Taliban were not what they had been 20 years ago.

On French president's visit

Commenting on a report about a plan for French President Emmanuel Macron to visit Croatia, Grlić Radman said that preparations for the visit had been going on for some time and that the French president was expected to pay a working visit in October or November, as well as that the date would be determined by the Office of the Prime Minister.

Grlić Radman underlined the importance of France in the EU and the global order, pointing to a joint proposal by Paris and London for Kabul Airport to be declared a safe zone.

"France constitutes the backbone of the EU," said the minister.

The talks with Macron will focus on the promotion of bilateral relations, economic cooperation, and the future of the Western Balkans and Southeast Europe, Grlić Radman said, recalling that the new EU admission methodology had complicated EU entry talks for North Macedonia and Albania.

"Croatia will try to appeal for stronger involvement by France" when it comes to security and stability in the Western Balkans, primarily Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the minister.

He noted that Croatia considered Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country with an EU membership prospect and wanted to discuss the importance of changes to its election law.

"That is the only way to make BiH functional and stable, with legitimate representatives of all peoples at all levels of government. The election law should guarantee the equality of all three constituent peoples," said Grlić Radman.

On ambassadorial appointments

Considering that by the end of the year 28 ambassadors and consuls should be appointed, and asked about disagreements between President Zoran Milanović and PM Plenković in that regard, Grlić Radman said that the impasse in talks on the matter had been resolved.

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Sunday, 29 August 2021

Croatia Takes in 19 Afghan Nationals

ZAGREB, 29 Aug, 2021 - Nineteen Afghan nationals, who worked as support staff for the European Union Delegation in Kabul, arrived at Zagreb Airport on Saturday, the Croatian Ministry of the Interior has reported.

The 19-member group consists of three families with children and a single.

They have all said that they intend to apply for international protection in Croatia, the ministry said.

The Afghan nationals had all been vetted prior to their employment with the EU Delegation.

The European External Action Service (EEAS) has called on EU members to take in EU staff from Afghanistan, around 500 Afghan nationals, mostly interpreters, logistics staff and their families.

Croatia has responded to the appeal, deciding to accept 20 persons whose lives and security are threatened by the restoration of the Taliban regime.

The ministry's immigration service is now in charge of the Afghan nationals.

Since the group includes as many as ten minors, it will be accommodated at a ministry facility for vulnerable groups.

The ministry said that it would not provide further information on the immigrants for the sake of their security.

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Thursday, 26 August 2021

Croatian Ambassador: Danger in Afghanistan Increases Every Day

ZAGREB, 26 Aug 2021 - The Croatian Ambassador to Turkey, Hrvoje Cvitanović, who also covers Afghanistan, said in Zagreb on Thursday, that the situation in Afghanistan was getting more dangerous by the day, and believes that there is a threat of terrorist attacks.

Cvitanović, who was attending a conference of Croatian diplomats in Zagreb, said that earlier in the day, there was an attack outside Kabul Airport and three people had died.

We still do not know who is behind the incident, he added,

The situation is more than complicated, and it is changing not by the hour but by the minute, the ambassador explained.

An estimated 30,000 people are around and within Kabul Airport, and he believes that there is a threat of terrorist attacks.

The governments of the USA, Australia, and the U.K. warn their citizens to avoid traveling to the airport in the Afghan capital as they fear that imminent, lethal attacks could be about to take place at Kabul airport.

There are no more Croatian nationals in Afghanistan and the embassy in Ankara is in contact with Croatians in neighboring countries.

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Sunday, 22 August 2021

President: No Mistake in Strategy in Afghanistan, but in Planning and Executing

ZAGREB, 22 Aug, 2021 - President Zoran Milanović said in Barban on Sunday that the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was not contentious, but mistakes were made in planning the exit from that country and evacuating Afghan associates of the international forces.

"This is not a mistake of the strategy, but a mistake of planning and executing. It's been known for quite some time that (the United States) was leaving Afghanistan, Biden inherited what Trump left, and he too was in favour of withdrawing," Milanović said, recalling that Croatia withdrew from Afghanistan over a year ago.

"I said in my election campaign that as the army supreme commander I would do that, the government did not object. It was clear that this needed to be wrapped up. I had the privilege of being one of those at the farewell ceremony for our soldiers in 2003 and in the end, the person who decided to end Croatia's involvement in Afghanistan," Milanović said.

Asked if Croatia should receive Afghan refugees, Milanović said that in his opinion refugees should go to the biggest countries.

"All of them should find their place in the United States. We can symbolically receive a small number of people. It is no longer 2015," Milanovic said.

He said he would always accept a small number of people. "This is why I don't understand and I cannot accept when someone says that we should accept noone. We need to be humane but also have our interests in mind;" the president said in Barban where he attended the 46th edition of the Prstenac tournament.

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Wednesday, 18 August 2021

FM: Croatia to Accept 20 Afghans Who Worked for EU Delegation

ZAGREB, 18 Aug 2021 - Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said on Wednesday that 20 Afghan citizens who had worked for the EU Delegation in their country would be accepted by Croatia.

The European External Action Service (EEAS) has called on the EU member-states to take in EU staff from Afghanistan, that is, about 500 local residents who worked as interpreters and logistic support providers and their family members.

Grlić Radman said that 20 would be allocated to Croatia.

"They provided support to our (NATO-led) forces and it is our duty to protect them," he said.

They were vetted and tested for employment (in EU institutions), they are highly educated. They are not irregular, undocumented migrants but persons known to our institutions, the minister added.

After the Taliban rapidly took control over the whole of Afghanistan immediately upon the withdrawal of NATO troops, many countries are now trying to pull out their diplomats and Afghans who worked for their embassies in that Asian country. 

Until Tuesday, all the 26 Croatians who had been in Afghanistan were evacuated, and the minister today thanked the Ukrainian, U.S., British and German authorities for assistance in their evacuation.

Croatia to follow EU policy on the Taliban

Grlić Radman, who attended an informal online meeting of EU foreign ministers on Tuesday, said that he had emphasized the importance of protecting human rights, primarily the rights of women and girls, as well as the safety of all EU citizens and local staff that used to work for the EU Delegation, so they would not be the targets of Taliban retaliation.

After nearly 20 years, the transformation of Afghan society has failed, he said.

He recalled that Croatia had participated in 70 bilateral projects, including the establishment of a school for midwives in Afghanistan.

That contribution should not go unnoticed, he said.

The minister told the press that Zagreb would follow the agreement of EU member-states on the topic of international recognition of the new regime in Kabul.

Tuesday's informal meeting also focused on a possible new migrant tide after the establishment of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.

In order to prevent a new wave of migrants, it is important to have communication with the Taliban, with third countries and Afghanistan's neighbors that are expected to share the burden of a possible migrant wave, the minister said.

"If the Taliban show and prove that they are ready to respect the rule of law and human rights, it will definitely be an opportunity to establish cooperation," said Grlić Radman.

He added that Croatia did not want a recurrence of the situation in 2015 and 2016.

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Wednesday, 18 August 2021

SDP Chief Says Croatia Should Receive Afghan Refugees

ZAGREB, 18 Aug 2021 -  Social Democratic Party (SDP) president Peđa Grbin said on Tuesday his party advocated that Croatia receives Afghan refugees.                                                                    

Croatia should accept Afghan refugees, notably women, for several reasons. First of all, it is a matter of solidarity. Second of all, Croatia had taken part in a mission in Afghanistan. The most important question is whether the departure of refugees from Afghanistan is going to be organized or is 2015 going to happen all over again, Grbin said.

The SDP chief added that in 20 years, the international community failed to do anything in Afghanistan.

Addressing reporters after a 4-hour session of the party presidency, which focused on the dissolution of party city organization in Zagreb and Slavonski Brod, Grbin said the presidency had decided these processes were over and that they had been conducted in accordance with the SDP statute and party regulations.

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