Monday, 11 October 2021

Božinović Says Waiting for Results of Investigation Into Violence Against Migrants

ZAGREB, 11 Oct 2021 - Interior Minister Davor Božinović on Monday said that he did not have any new information related to videos of police violence against migrants and that it is necessary to wait for the results of the investigation.

"We'll wait and see what the results of the investigation show. Everything that will happen as part of the relevant procedures will be in line with what the police chief said on Friday," Božinović told reporters.

Protecting the borders in line with the law

Asked about responsibility in the chain of command, Božinović underscored that the orders are to protect the state borders in line with the law.

"There cannot be any order that is not in line with the law. As soon as I receive the report from the police directorate, I will forward it to the prime minister, even though we have already discussed all this," said Božinović.

He said that police officers, particularly those assigned to border control, doing one of the most difficult jobs.

He added that there were cases when the police themselves identified cases of police officers overstepping their powers or unlawful conduct.

He said that disciplinary procedures had been underway from before against eight police officers and that 22 cases had been documented and submitted to the State Attorney's Office (DORH).

"When someone individually breaches or oversteps their authority anywhere, there are services in the police directorate and internal controls to conduct investigations and decide on the penalties," he said.

Commenting on an anonymous letter by a police officer who claimed two years ago that an order existed for violent pushbacks, Božinović reiterated that anything that was reported was always investigated. DORH rejected 13 of the 22 cases for lack of evidence, he said.

The anonymous police officer's letter refers to a specific case, with a specific location and date, which previously was not the case, said Božinović and added that a prompt reaction followed the anonymous letter and that the matter was still being investigated.

Božinović also commented on a recent drug incident in the Croatian Army, underscoring that police offices were exceptionally active regarding the fight against drug smuggling.

"The cocaine market is expanding into the general population, which is concerning. We will meet with the anti-drug commission in the next few days. In 2020, 60 kilograms of cocaine were confiscated whereas in the first eight months of this year more than 667 kilograms were seized," he said.

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Saturday, 9 October 2021

Abuse of Migrants at the Border, Chief of Police Nikola Milina Speaks

October 9, 2021 - On Friday, the Chief of Police Nikola Milina held a press conference at the Police Directorate, where he spoke about the published recordings of the treatment and abuse of migrants and the findings of the Expert Team so far.

"According to the first information after the publication of the recording, we immediately formed an expert team, and colleagues from the Police Directorate were sent to the field in order to shed light on what it is about. Immediately during the first actions, we came to know that the persons were police officers of the intervention police. "Since at this moment there is a basic suspicion of a serious violation of official duty, which is very damaging to the reputation of the police, the procedure of handing over the decision to the officers on the removal of duty is underway and further disciplinary proceedings are underway," Milina said.

As reported by Net.hr, the chief of the police said that they were in cooperation with the DORH, with which they would conduct further investigations. He also pointed out that they want to shed light on the event to the end. “Our interest is certainly to shed light on this event to the end, in no way do we want the individual event to affect the praise the police receive for their daily dedicated work,” he said.

Footage of masked police beating migrants at the border. (Telegram.hr)

''Corridor is not some secret operation''

He then denied certain information that emerged from the publication of the video.

"We have to deny that the Corridor is a secret operation aimed at intimidating or promotes abuse of migrants. It is a long-term action to prevent human trafficking, we have arrested 4,000 smugglers in the last two years. Members of the Croatian police have rescued migrants from streams, rivers, indoors where they have been placed by smuggling groups in often dangerous situations. In these few years, the Croatian police have been at the forefront of preventing the smuggling of migrants. 

Another misinformation is that there are police cover-ups, and that police officers in turn carry out some illegal orders. ''It doesn't stand out at all. I constantly send instructions to behave cautiously, especially towards vulnerable groups, such as women, children, but also in other situations", he said.

He said state prosecutors have initiated a total of 22 proceedings since 2018 regarding police treatment of migrants; in 13 cases the proceedings were suspended, the rest are ongoing.

"For those who break the law, the Croatian system is the most rigorous in treating its members and they must be aware that they will be held accountable. Also, regarding situations concerning alleged police officers who say they have been ordered to work illegally. There is a very clear situation, a police officer is obliged to report illegal actions ex officio. We also conducted 8 disciplinary proceedings against officials who violated the rules of treatment and abuse of migrants. I can say that in at least 13 cases the proceedings were suspended, and we always check everything we have to and wherever there are grounds for suspecting that there are disciplinary errors'', said Milina.

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Chief of Police, Nikola Milina, at a press conference on Friday. (Photo: Goran Stanzl/PIXSELL)

Milina confirmed that there were three intervention police officers in this case and many have been identified so far. "Surveys will continue to be conducted in cooperation with the competent state attorney's office. These are facts that I can communicate. I am responsible for the first day of work in the police," said Milina, emphasizing that there are no special orders for abuse of migrants.

"It is especially warned that no use of force is allowed, especially against vulnerable groups, women, and children. It is about acting during working hours. This is certainly not a procedure that is appropriate and dignified, regardless of whether it is done at the border or any kind of treatment", he said.

The director general of police also said that "it will be seen for what reason (police officers) did not wear the prescribed uniform". "This is not about any treatment outside working hours. As far as uniforms are concerned, police officers are obliged to wear the prescribed uniforms, and it will be determined why they had certain parts differently and did not wear the prescribed uniform. This is about treatment, suppression of illegal migration, but this is certainly not a procedure that is appropriate and dignified. It is an intervention unit of the police that was on the rescue, it seems to me from the Istrian Police", he said.

Milina did not want to specify what the officers removed from duty are charged with, saying only that it was a serious violation of official duty and damage to the reputation of the Croatian police due to what was on the recording. "We will strengthen the control mechanisms. They have written instructions, they will also receive oral instructions. The focus is not only on the intervention police but on all branches of the police, we will strengthen education," he said.

He also said that, according to available data, there have been no disciplinary proceedings against police officers removed from duty so far.

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Saturday, 17 July 2021

Migrant's Pressure on Croatia Border Decreases (Jutarnji List)

ZAGREB, 17 July (Hina) - Migrants' pressure on Croatia's border has lessened recently, and in the first half of 2021 the police registered 7,434 illegal crossings, which was 11.2% less than in the corresponding period of 2020 when there were 8,374 such cases, the Jutarnji List (JL) daily reported on Saturday.

Similar developments were registered in Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the daily newspaper that in the recent period more and more migrants opted for the routes across Serbia and Hungary and further towards other EU member-states.

In the first half of 2021, attempts to illegally cross into Croatia were mainly made by migrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, and Kosovo.

Slovenia has also reported that in H1 2021, there were 3,343 illegal arrivals of migrants, 34.8% less than in H1 2020.

Currently, an estimated 7,500 irregular migrants are staying in Bosnia and Herzegovina, considerably fewer than in recent years.

In Serbia, the official numbers show that about 4,000 irregular migrants are now staying in that country, however, the real numbers are believed to be higher. There are several illegal migrant camps along the Serbian-Hungarian border.

The Jutarnji List daily quoted a source in the Croatian Interior Ministry as saying that the efficient protection of Croatia's external border has prompted a portion of migrants to seek other weak spots along the EU external border and to reroute themselves from Bosnia and Herzegovina into Serbia and try travel through Romania and Hungary.

Lately, Lithuania has been faced with a new migrant crisis, which has seen thousands of people crossing from Belarus, foreign media outlets have reported.

The Croatian government decided on Friday to send tents, bunk beds, blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags to Lithuania since the Baltic country has taken in more than 2,000 migrants in recent weeks.

The number of crossings of irregular migrants, mainly Syrians and Iraqis, from Belarus to Lithuania has increased 25 times compared to the whole of 2020, Croatian Interior Minister Davor Božinovć said at a cabinet meeting.

Croatia's aid is equivalent to HRK 1.05 million (€140,000).

Thursday, 24 June 2021

Twice as Many Illegal Migrants Reported on Balkan Route as Last Year - Večernji List

ZAGREB, 24 June 2021 - Migratory pressure on Europe is increasing again as the number of people illegally crossing the external borders of the European Union in the first five months of this year reached 47,100, which is an increase of nearly 50 percent compared with the same period last year, Večernji List newspaper said on Thursday. 

On the so-called Balkan route, 14,734 illegal attempts to cross the border were reported this year, or 104 percent more than at the same time last year. The Western Balkan countries reported 2,900 such attempts in May, which is twice as many as in May 2020. Most of the illegal migrants using this route come from Syria and Afghanistan.

These are the preliminary data released by the EU border and coast guard agency Frontex, which attributed the increase in numbers to the fact that the borders, which were closed last year because of the COVID-19 outbreak, are now being reopened.

The greatest pressure still comes from the Central Mediterranean route as nearly 4,200 migrants used this route to get to Europe in May, nearly twice as many as at the same time last year. Between January and May this year the number of illegal crossings on this route more than doubled, reaching 15,700.

Croatia lies on the Balkan route, with most migrants using it as a transit country on their way to other destinations in the EU. Even most asylum seekers, who arrive in Croatia from refugee camps in Greece and Italy under an EU relocation program, leave. Of 250 resettled persons whom Croatia accepted as part of the EU solidarity mechanism, 67 or 26.4 percent have stayed in Croatia.

That migrants do not see Croatia as their destination but only as a barrier on their way to other destinations is shown by the fact that Slovenia returned 9,871 illegal migrants to Croatia last year and 607 in the first four months of this year.

Croatia has seen an increase in the number of migrants illegally crossing its border this year. In the first quarter of 2021, 3,267 such cases were registered, which is at last year's levels, while compared with May 2019 their number increased by 17 percent. Most of the illegal migrants come from Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the burden of migration, Večernji List said.

For more news about Croatia, visit our dedicated page.

Monday, 10 June 2019

What can Portugal Teach Croatia about Tax Incentives and Immigration?

What can Croatia learn from Portugal's dramatic turnaround? Quite a bit, as it happens.

As Novac/Nikola Mijatovic writes on the 9th of June, 2019, most European countries have faced a demographic crisis over the past decade or so, with the exceptions of rich EU nations like the UK and Germany, who have seen an influx of immigrants from other EU states. The number of deaths significantly exceeds the number of births in Croatia, which is also what happened in Portugal, affecting the proportion of the working-active population (employed) and even just state service users negatively.

This is negatively reflected in Portugal's public finance system, and in particular on the financial sustainability of the social security system. It can be said that the demographic aging of the population in the EU is a crucial challenge that currently doesn't have an adequate response offered to it. This was aided by the 2008 economic and financial crisis, which pushed Portugal even further back, seeing it drop to the very bottom of the European economy, taking the general levels of optimism of the Portuguese population down with it.

Portugal currently has 10.3 million inhabitants. Forecasts suggest that by the year 2080, if there are no positive demographic fluctuations, there will be 7.7 million inhabitants. Such a negative demographic breakdown was also influenced by Portugal's entry into the EU back in 1986, when a significant number of citizens, using the benefits of EU's fundamental freedoms, went to live and work in richer European countries such as the UK and Germany.

This should also include about 500,000 people who left Portugal in the wake of the awful 2011-2015 crisis. The poor economic situation in Portugal (additionally supported by the global crisis) affected a large number of unemployed people - in 2015 the unemployment rate in Portugal was 12.4 percent according to Eurostat, by 2018, it was 6.7 percent - especially affecting young people, of whom almost 50 percent were unable to find any sort of job (today the share of unemployed youth in Portugal stands at 20 percent).

All of this led to the figure of 2.3 million Portuguese citizens who went to live overseas. With the extremely negative rate of demographic growth - the lowest rate of demographic growth in the EU for the past few years (fertility rate of 1.4 percent) - Portugal's still lingers at the demographic bottom of the EU.

Significant economic revolutions and better financial parameters from the state are thanks to the formation of a new, left-leaning government which took over at the end of 2015. The growth of the Portuguese economy in recent years has led to the lowest budget deficit since 1974 (when a new government system was established).

Immediately after the takeover of power, in 2016, the new Portuguese government achieved a budget deficit of 2.1 percent, which is within the limits of budget constraints imposed by the EU (the budget deficit cannot be higher than 3 percent of GDP), and in 2018, it recorded a record budget deficit of 0.7 percent of GDP.

Though it has the largest public debt with the EU (with 128.8 percent of GDP in 2007), it has continued to decline over the last three years, to 201.4 percent of GDP (according to Wirtschaftskammer Austria), and the IMF forecasts from February 2019 predict a continued fall in public debt, and it's expected to amount to 107.4 percent of GDP by 2022).

Positive economic developments and the stabilisation of public finances also led to the early repayment of an IMF loan, which Portugal, forced by the economic crisis, took out in 2011 in order to service its financial needs. There is also a rise in its credit rating, which has affected the decline in interest rates on Portuguese bonds.

All of this contributed to stronger foreign investment and strong global business activity in ​​Portugal (Google employs more than 500 people there, Mercedes opened up new office IT offices, and more and more Spanish companies moved their headquarters to Portugal.)

All of the above has led to growth in private consumption, attracting more foreign investment and strengthening exports, and the Portuguese economy has been growing steadily in recent years (2017's GDP growth was 2.8 percent, and in 2018 it was 2.1 percent), leading to a fall in the unemployment rate (forecasts by the IMF indicate that in 2022, unemployment in Portugal will amount to a mere 6 percent).

In addition to a strong growth in tourism, the growth of the economy was affected by the lowering of oil prices on the world market, the increase in the sale of metal products and the increase in exports for the needs of motor vehicles, as well as the textiles and paper industries in EU countries (especially Spain, France and Germany as main trading partners).

The main export products from Portugal in 2018, at least according to Wirtschaftskammer Austria, were car parts (6.8 percent), electric machines (4.1 percent), mineral raw materials (3.5 percent), machinery and mechanical appliances (3.1 percent), and artificial materials/goods (2.6 percent).

The (economic) optimism that is now felt in Portugal is particularly evident in the field of tourism, which has experienced a real boom in recent years; it has received a variety of tourist awards, which attracts numerous (foreign) tourists and leads to an overall rise in tourism revenue.

According to WKO Austria, Portugal was visited by 15.8 million foreign tourists in 2015, then 21.1 million in 2017. It has strongly boosted (overseas) tourist revenues, which in 2011 amounted to 7.9 percent of GDP, and in 2017, they accounted for 9.6 percent of GDP. The strengthening of Portuguese tourism was also influenced by a tax-oriented tourism policy.

While the previous government, due to the crisis and the need for increased tax revenues, decided to increase the VAT rate to an unhelpful 23 percent, the current government has made a tax reduction - it has introduced a 13 percent lower VAT rate on tourism and hospitality, which paved the  way for the attractiveness of the country as a desirable tourist destination.

Positive budgetary and economic developments, among other things, were influenced by the good tax measures introduced by the new left-leaning government. Unlike the previous government, which, in response to the crisis, advocated a savings policy (reducing salaries and pensions) and introduced new taxes, the current government is pursuing expansive economic and fiscal policies by abolishing the reductions and taxes introduced during the crisis.

While it was decided to reduce VAT on tourism and hospitality, taxes on inheritance, gifts and property were raised. Tax exemptions seek to attract foreign pensioners to come and live in Portugal.

In this regard, wanting to take advantage of the mild climate, more than 300 sunny days a year and lower living costs, the Portuguese Government has already stipulated that foreign pensioners applying for a resident status - in the case of multiple residences - must stay at least 183 days oer year Portugal, and can then take advantage of the exemption from paying income tax.

With such tax planning, individuals can save up to 30,000 euros a year, depending on the country they come from and the pension that they have. Politico wrote about this "unusual resident scheme" a few months ago, stating that the well-off baby boomers moving to Portugal are attracted by the warm climate and tax benefits, where it isn't necessary to buy properly (it's possible just to rent). By applying for such a "resident scheme" pensions from abroad can be exempt from needing to be taxed for an entire decade.

2009's tax exemptions for new tax residents in Portugal were imposed. Physical persons who become Portuguese taxpayers (residents) next year, provided that they weren't taxpayers for the previous five years there, may seek the use of a special tax incentive for so-called "unusual" taxpayers.

For them, a proportional tax rate of 20 percent is foreseen regardless of the amount of income earned. There is also a limitation that such tax incentives, which are aimed at attracting highly educated professionals, remain valid only for professional activities in highly valuable positions.

For example, architects, engineers and similar technical professionals, artists, actors and musicians, auditors and tax consultants, doctors and dentists, professors, psychologists, investors, directors, and managers are included in this category. The aforementioned residents are entitled to tax incentives for the next ten years. In addition, under certain conditions, the possibility of a tax exemption for income made outside of Portugal (under the double taxation avoidance agreement, tax is payable only in the source country) is foreseen.

For entrepreneurs from third countries (outside the EU/EEA), in order to accelerate the acquisition of resident status in Portugal and the achievement of related tax incentives, the Golden Residence Permit was launched in 2012. If the investor wants to meet the conditions for obtaining this status, he must invest at least one million euros (share investments are allowed), open at least ten jobs within the investment project, and acquire real estate costing at least 500,000 euros.

By acquiring this status, entrepreneurs from third countries can move around and use the benefits offered within the EU more easily. This program proved to be beneficial to the Portuguese economy because such permits have been obtained thousands of foreign entrepreneurs who have invested more than four billion euros into the Portuguese economy so far, according to public figures. The program itself was supported by almost all political parties.

This also includes tax measures for emigrants, foreseen in the budget for 2019. It is intended to be realised within Portugal's ''Return Program'' (Program Regressar), where those who have emigrated from Portugal, as well as their offspring, are offered incentives if they return to their homeland.

Namely, as has been stated, in the period from 2011 to 2015, in the wake of the economic crisis, about 500,000 Portuguese people left their country. Although some of them returned, the Portuguese Government wants to boost the return of other Portuguese emigrants. That is why the Program Regressar was thought up and eventually passed, in order to, among other things, deal with the task of "meeting the current needs of workers within certain sectors of the Portuguese economy".

As part of this program, the intention is for emigrants who decide to return to receive assistance, help with the costs of relocating and transferring private property, as well as finding a job in Portugal. There are also specific credit facilities intended for returnees who want to start a private business.

Portugal has not only properly addressed their burning issues, but taken the necessary steps to overcome them. Croatia is continuing to lag, with an absolutely dire demographic trend continuing to strip the nation of its much needed labour force, resulting in the Croatian Government increasing the quota for foreign workers from outside the EEA, such as those from Serbia, Bosnia, and even people from as far away as Asia. 

The situation in Croatia is likely to get dramatically worse before it shows any signs of improving, or will the state wake up and follow in Portugal's footsteps? Only time will tell, but by then it might be much too late.

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