Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Interior Minister: Croatia Protects Its Borders Like Any Other Country

ZAGREB, March 13, 2019 - Interior Minister Davor Božinović said on Wednesday that Croatia protects its borders like any other country. "If any of the European countries wants illegal migrants, we can open a corridor and let them through as we did in 2015. But we know that this isn't so, that, for example, Germany and Austria don't want them, that Slovenia and Hungary have erected wire fences. Every country in the world protects its borders and so does Croatia, and we will not allow illegal migration," Božinović said in an interview with Croatian Radio.

Speaking of the latest report by the human rights watchdog Amnesty International, which accused Croatia and other countries of violence against migrants, Božinović dismissed the accusations, saying that his ministry had immediately responded to the organisation's report.

"Whenever any irregularities or unacceptable behaviour are identified, as is the case of a police officer who tried to 'teach' migrants football chants, they are penalised. The young police officer has promptly been removed from service and another two are facing disciplinary action. On the other hand, there are quite a few examples of Croatian police assisting migrants, such as the case of a badly injured migrant who was rescued in rugged terrain and was hospitalised," the minister said.

Speaking of the case of Regional Development and EU Funds Minister Gabrijela Žalac, who hit a 10-year-old girl while driving through a residential area in the eastern town of Vinkovci on Saturday, Božinović said that the police had done their part of the job professionally.

He said that the police cannot bring charges if there are no grounds. "I have consulted reports on similar cases of car accidents that resulted in the injury of pedestrians and have found many cases in which the police did not bring criminal charges because there were no grounds in those particular cases. The case of Minister Žalac is now in the County Attorney's hands."

Žalac was found to be driving with a driving licence that had expired in 2016. Božinović said that 1,759 drivers had been fined this year for driving without a valid driving licence, adding that the annual average was over 13,000.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Amnesty International: Europe Complicit in Violence Against Migrants on Croatian Border

ZAGREB, March 13, 2019 - European governments are complicit in "the systematic, unlawful and frequently violent pushbacks and collective expulsions of thousands of asylum seekers" from Croatia to squalid and unsafe refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) said in a report published on Wednesday.

"Currently around 5,500 women, men and children are trapped in two small Bosnian towns near the Croatian border, Bihać and Velika Kladuša, living in defunct former factories without basic amenities. Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot offer them adequate protection or living conditions and the improvised camps are unhygienic, lacking hot water, medical care and sufficient food," the London-based organisation said in the report entitled "Pushed to the edge: Violence and abuse against refugees and migrants along Balkan Route."

The report details "how, by prioritizing border control over compliance with international law, European governments are not just turning a blind eye to vicious assaults by the Croatian police, but also funding their activities. In so doing, they are fuelling a growing humanitarian crisis on the edge of the European Union."

“To understand where European government’s priorities lie, one only needs to follow the money. Their financial contribution towards humanitarian assistance is dwarfed by the funds they provide for border security which includes equipping Croatian border police and even paying their salaries,” said Massimo Moratti, Director of Research for Amnesty International’s Europe Office.

“Meanwhile people fleeing war and persecution are beaten and robbed by the Croatian police and forcibly pushed back to legal limbo, left at the mercy of a failing asylum system in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” AI said, noting that migrants caught in Italy and Slovenia are expelled back to Bosnia and Herzegovina via Croatia.

Many migrants described how they were beaten, had their documents destroyed and possessions stolen in what appears to be a systematic and deliberate policy by Croatian authorities designed to deter future attempts to enter the country.

Bureaucratic obstacles, inadequate legal assistance and limited administrative capacity mean that potential asylum-seekers are unlikely to get their asylum claims processed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Most attempt to proceed to other European countries, and the journey is not easy.

"Having previously entered the EU through Greece and Bulgaria and having been abjectly failed by the asylum system there, people exit the EU to continue the journey along the Balkans. In order to reach Slovenia or Italy, where the EU Schengen free movement regime begins, they have to navigate Croatia’s dense forests, fast moving rivers and, in some places, live minefields," the report says.

In the first ten months of 2018, at least 12 people drowned in the Western Balkans, most of them trying to cross the border from Croatia to Slovenia, and dozens more died in other ways, AI said.

"As the allegations of violent pushbacks on the borders have mounted, Croatian authorities have increasingly discouraged public scrutiny of country’s migration practices. Attempts by Croatian public institutions to oversee migration practices at the border have been blocked and organizations working on migrant and refugee rights have been targeted by the authorities," the organisation said.

"NGO volunteers have been harassed, held for hours by police without formal charges and threatened with criminal prosecution. The Ministry of Interior has even accused some NGOs of assisting people to enter Croatia irregularly," it added.

"In spite of these appalling practices at the border, the European Union has continued to allocate significant funds to assist Croatia in its border security infrastructure. The EU has also wilfully ignored the failures of the European asylum system that make these journeys necessary," the report said.

“European leaders can no longer wash their hands of responsibility for the continued collective expulsions and violent pushbacks along the Balkan route that are the result of their determination to fortify EU borders, no matter what the human cost is,” Moratti concluded.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Croatian Policeman Forces Migrants to Chant “Dinamo Zagreb”

The footage of a Croatian policeman who is forcing a group of detained migrants to chant "Dinamo Zagreb" is spreading on social networks, reports on March 12, 2019.

The Centre for Peace Studies has received a confirmation from the Ministry of Interior that the Croatian police officer was responsible for filming a group of migrants and encouraging them to chant the football fans’ slogan.

The footage was made on 6 March in the area of the Cetingrad border police station. “Given that the persons spoke English well, one of the police officers encouraged them to engage in improper communication and filmed them with the help of a mobile device,” said the police, according to the Centre for Peace Studies.

The Ministry also added that the police would initiate disciplinary proceedings against three police officers who were present, while the policeman who filmed the migrants would be removed from duty. The persons who tried to enter Croatia later returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Here is the police response to questions about the incident.

“Immediately after we received initial information, on Friday, March 8, in order to determine all the relevant facts about the time and place of the controversial incident and before the footage was made public, necessary checks and inquiries were made on the ground and it was established as follows:

The controversial event took place on Wednesday, March 6, 2019, in the area covered by the Cetingrad border police station. At the borderline, the police officers noted a group of people who were resting. The police officers warned them that their further progress would represent an illegal crossing of the state border and that they must return. Given that the persons spoke English well, one of the police officers encouraged them to engage in improper communication and filmed them with the help of a mobile device. Given that the police officers prevented their illegal entry into Croatia, the persons left their position and returned into the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Against three of the police officers involved in the event the competent superiors will initiate disciplinary proceedings for a severe violation of the official duty, while the police officer who filmed and acted improperly and inappropriately communicated with the persons will be removed from duty because the disciplinary violation is such that his further stay in the service might harm the interests of the service," wrote the Interior Ministry in the response.

The Karlovac Police Administration is conducting a criminal investigation to determine all the circumstances of the event and stresses that they have repeatedly expressed attitude of zero tolerance to any unlawful behaviour by police officers, adding that they condemn such conduct.

Translated from

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Croatia: Still No Consensus on European Asylum System

ZAGREB, March 8, 2019 - There is still no consensus among European Union member states about reforming the European asylum system, the topic that has been on the agenda for the past three years, Croatian Interior Minister Davor Božinović said in Brussels on Thursday.

"After three years of talks we can say that the idea about a set of migration laws, including the asylum system, has failed, at least in the term of the present Commission," Božinović said after a meeting of the EU interior ministers.

Carmen Dan, Romania’s Minister of the Interior and the president of the Council of the European Union, also said no progress was made in sharing out the burden of asylum seekers which would replace the existing Dublin regulation.

The Commission and several countries are calling for the adoption of the parts of the package of laws on which consent has been reached, such as setting up a European asylum agency and improving a database with migrant fingerprints.

"I am not sure that a common position has been reached on this either," Božinović said.

The reform is at a stalemate because some member states do not wish to take in asylum seekers, not even in cases of a sudden migrant influx to share a burden with countries on external EU borders.

More news on the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Less than 5% of Communities have Immigrants Who Came to Croatia Since 2015

ZAGREB, March 3, 2019 - Law professor Ivan Koprić, who has recently presented findings of a study about the capacities of Croatian municipalities and towns to accept migrants, has said that less than 5% of units of local self-government have immigrants who have arrived since 2015 in Croatia.

Commenting on the findings at a round table discussion on challenges of migrations organised by the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts (HAZU), Koprić, who is a professor at Zagreb Law School, said that the study, conducted by the Institute of Public Administration, involved 62 mayors of municipalities and towns with more than 10,000 residents.

"Less than 5% of those communities have immigrants who have arrived since 2015, while 90% communities had experiences with refugees and displaced people in the 1990s," he said.

Those local communities are willing to take in immigrant Croats from abroad, and then immigrants from western Europe, Scandinavia, Canada, the USA and Croatia's neighbouring countries.

As many as 77% of respondents reject the claim about unacceptable multiculturality, and 66% reject a claim about immigration not being welcome.

However, 68% of respondents believe that an influx of immigrants may cause social problems, and 60% say that the capacity of local institutions and utilities such as pre-school institutions, schools, healthcare centres are insufficient for the integration of migrants, and 70% of them will like to transfer this job to nongovernmental organisations, according to Koprić's presentation.

The professor says that the mayors covered by the poll have a realistic insight in the risks and potential advantages of immigration.

More news on the migration crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Migrant Who Reported Being Separated from Daughter Charged with Raising False Alarm

ZAGREB, March 1, 2019 - The Karlovac police on Friday filed criminal charges against a 44-year old Syrian migrant who last September falsely reported his daughter as missing, after which he applied for asylum in Croatia and then ran away from the Migrant Centre, the local police reported.

The police reported that they had determined that the 44-year old Syrian, who identified himself as Wadie Ghazi Sineid, had falsely reported that the "Croatian police had separated him from his 5-year old daughter on 11 September 2018 in Slunj." The police suspect that he did this "with the aim of crossing the state border of Croatia and stepping onto the territory of the European Union, namely a member state of the Schengen Area in order to regulate his residency there."

"The suspect falsely reported the child as missing even though he was aware that the child was not with him, believing that the police would react urgently in search of the child," the police said in press release.

The suspect reported the child's disappearance on September 24 saying that this occurred at the Maljevac border crossing, and on that occasion, he said that he would apply for international protection in Croatia. Subsequently the police undertook a series of measures to search for the minor.

The suspect is currently out of reach of Croatian authorities because prior to his application for international protection being resolved he left the asylum centre in Zagreb.

Last autumn, Interior Minister Davor Božinović confirmed to the media that prior to the Syrian reporting the missing child, he had applied for asylum in Sarajevo and that at that time, he was not accompanied by his daughter.

Cases of false alarm in Croatia carry a sentence of up to three years in prison.

More news on the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Božinović Visits Croatian Police on North Macedonian-Greek Border

ZAGREB, February 27, 2019 - Croatian Interior Minister Davor Božinović and his North Macedonian counterpart Oliver Spasovski on Tuesday visited Bogorodica, the North Macedonian-Greek border crossing where 11 Croatian police are helping the police of North Macedonia.

Their main job is to prevent the illegal crossing of the border. The Croatian police told Božinović that the patrols in which they had taken part had uncovered a majority of the migrant smugglers arrested on this route.

Speaking to the press, Spasovski thanked the Croatian Interior Ministry and Croatia as the first state which sent police to Macedonia on a bilateral basis. "I wish to honour them for their professional work and for the exchange of experience with the Macedonian police. This is an example of how we should work together to resolve global problems."

Božinović said he was especially pleased when praise came from international partners and friends, adding that this was an example of how states dealt with transnational problems.

"No state can resolve alone issues which are cross-border in nature, from terrorism to organised crime and... more and more illegal migration. Croatian police do not protect only the Croatian border but 11 of them are transferring their experience in dealing with the migrant crisis in Croatia to their colleagues here in North Macedonia," he said.

He said the trends in both countries were similar and that it was very important that police forces exchanged experience and were always ahead of smugglers. He added that last year North Macedonia prevented 16,900 illegal migrants from crossing the border.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Interior Minister Visits North Macedonia, Discusses Migration

ZAGREB, February 26, 2019 - Croatian Interior Minister Davor Božinović began a two-day visit to North Macedonia by meeting with his counterpart Oliver Spasovksi in Skopje on Monday evening.

Spasovski thanked Croatia for police assistance in dealing with the migrant crisis and for political support in helping his country on the path to membership of the European Union and NATO. "This is yet another confirmation of our friendship and cooperation," Spasovski said after the meeting, thanking Croatian police for helping their Macedonian colleagues in securing the border with Greece.

"This is very important for Macedonia and the whole region. This model shows how cooperation in dealing with crises such as migration, which has hit all of us, should be functioning," he added.

Spasovski said they had discussed bilateral relations, combating organised and cross-border crime, the integration of North Macedonia into NATO, and the sharing of Croatia's experience from the EU accession process.

Božinović said that the Croatian parliament would ratify North Macedonia's NATO accession protocol most likely by the end of this week, adding that this was a major step for stability and security in the region and for the country's EU membership bid.

Božinović expressed hope that North Macedonia would open EU membership negotiations as soon as possible, adding that one of the priorities of the Croatian presidency of the EU in the first half of 2020 would be further EU enlargement.

"It will certainly be the period in which both Croatia and North Macedonia will do as much work as possible regarding (Macedonia's) EU integration," the Croatian minister said.

He said he was glad to hear that the hosts were satisfied with the cooperation between the two countries, especially with the cooperation with the Croatian police deployed at border crossings with Greece to prevent illegal migration.

"This route which runs from Greece stops before the Croatian border and that's why it is very important to us to cooperate with all these countries to improve this entire process, all the procedures that protect the security of our border and the security of our citizens and our guests," Božinović said.

He noted that migration was one of six priority areas of cooperation between the EU and membership aspirants, adding that during its EU presidency Croatia would organise a special conference on this matter.

Božinović said that North Macedonia and other countries in the region have in Croatia their staunchest advocate in the EU institutions.

On Tuesday, Božinović is scheduled to attend a Brdo Process conference and visit Croatian police deployed along the Macedonian border with Greece.

More news about relations between Croatia and Macedonia can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Increase in Number of Migrant Smugglers on Trial

ZAGREB, February 25, 2019 - The number of people on trial as migrant smugglers in Croatia is many times higher than in previous years, especially at the Karlovac Municipal Court, which received 229 such indictments in 2018 and about 50 this year.

In each case one or more persons are on trial for taking money to transport foreign citizens through Croatia and enable them to illegally enter another European Union member state.

Karlovac Municipal Court judge and spokeswoman Blaženka Lugar Vidović has told Hina that those people were tried under the Penal Code article on illegal entry, movement and stay in Croatia or another EU country.

The pressure on the court is high because the cases are urgent and concern people from Albania, Ukraine, Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, sometimes from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and very rarely from Croatia, she said.

Sixty-eight sentences have been delivered. All arrestees were given a court-appointed attorney, but afterwards many chose their own.

Migrant smuggling is punishable with one to eight years in prison. Some smugglers have been given five years. However, a sentence can be as high as 12 years if smugglers endangered migrants' lives and health, for example by transporting them in trucks with not enough air.

Lugar Vidović said those sentenced to prison were deprived of the trucks, vans and mobile phones they used in the commission of the crimes to send "a message of general prevention" and that it seemed to work.

Asked about the smugglers' profile, she said they included people doing it for the first time, out of necessity, to pay off loans as well as professionals who admitted to having been arrested in other countries. She said one smuggler said he had done it only so he could buy his fiancee an engagement ring.

She said that was why the sentences varied after all mitigating and aggravating circumstances were considered. The minimum sentence is one year in prison, those who were extremely brazen get five and those who also endangered the lives and health of others may be given the maximum 12 years in prison, she said, adding that the latter were tried by a jury, not a judge.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Will Asylum Seekers Centre Be Built in Petrinja?

ZAGREB, February 22, 2019 - A panel discussion on the humane aspects of the integration of asylum seekers into Croatian society ended inconclusively in Petrinja on Friday as the authorities and residents failed to come any closer in their views on the plan to build an asylum seekers centre in the town, located about 60 kilometres southeast of Zagreb.

The only unanimous conclusion was that the residents did not have timely and relevant information about the project, which has been in the making for over a year.

The project to build a centre for asylum seekers was opposed by local war veterans, political parties and civil society organisations mostly for security reasons, and it has also been voted down by the Town Council.

"I have expressed my readiness to come here for as long as necessary so that we can issue the right messages and discuss facts. This probably should have been discussed earlier, but there are no time limits. The most important thing to me is that we all realise what this is about, and this is about deciding whether to help families who are in trouble and in need of international protection. And as for the building itself, that is a side issue," Interior Minister Davor Božinović said.

Božinović said that Croatian policy on illegal migration was clear. "We will not allow illegal migration, but it is humane to help those who need help. If the residents insist on their decision, we will honour it, but I would not make such conclusions because I believe that dialogue can produce results."

The minister said that 4 million euro had already been secured for the construction of infrastructure for the future centre and other facilities. He added that the total value of the project was about 200 million kuna (27 million euro) and that the money would be secured from EU funds.

More news about the migrant crisis can be found in the Politics section.

Page 15 of 47