Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Croatia Discusses Illegal Migration with Albania and Montenegro

ZAGREB, January 23, 2019 - Croatian Interior Minister Davor Božinović met with his Albanian and Montenegrin counterparts, Sander Lleshaj and Mevludin Nuhodžić, in Zagreb on Tuesday, discussing cooperation in preventing illegal migration.

Speaking to the press after the meeting, Božinović said that they had agreed on "more or less everything" and that now they needed to "implement what will raise our cooperation to a higher level and increase our resilience to challenges."

The meeting was the continuation of dialogue that was stepped up last year, particularly about migration which has intensified on the Eastern Mediterranean or Western Balkans route since the end of 2017.

Božinović said that Croatia, as an EU member, had also stepped up dialogue with European institutions to draw attention to the importance of the southeast of Europe when it came to illegal migration.

Until last year, European institutions had mostly been focused on the Central Mediterranean migration route towards Italy and the Western Mediterranean route towards Spain, Božinović said, adding that they had realised then that they should also concentrate on the Western Balkans as the only land route and its potential to be used by the largest number of migrants.

The three ministers exchanged information on migration, saying that all three countries had recorded increases in the number of illegal migrants. In Croatia, their number is nearly 70 percent higher than in 2017. Lleshaj said that Albania had recorded six times more migrants than in 2017, and Nuhodžić said that Montenegro had also recorded an increase.

"Albania and Montenegro are very important to us because the illegal migrants who reach these countries soon turn up on the Croatian border, either with Serbia or more often and in greater numbers on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina," Božinović said.

Last year Croatia recorded 619 cases of human trafficking, an increase of 71 percent over 2017.

Božinović said that they also discussed the change in the structure of migrants, adding that most of the migrants who had reached the three countries came from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq. He said this meant that in most cases these people could not be described as refugees because they were mostly economic migrants trying to reach their destinations in Western Europe.

"On the one hand this is legitimate, but on the other, given the policy of the EU which wants to stop illegal migration and which is increasingly investing in the protection of its external borders, it's something that we have to cope with," Božinović said. "These are the issues we will have to cope with in the decades to come. No country can deal with this alone and that's why cooperation is needed on a regional and wider level, either European or global," he added.

Božinović said that the countries of Southeastern Europe, which are candidates for EU membership, should not be ignored in discussions on these issues. He said that some of the initiatives had produced concrete results, adding that Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro had for the first time been granted funding from the EU to increase their border control capacity.

Recalling that earlier this month the European Commission had approved a 100-million-euro fund for operational cooperation in fighting human smuggling, Božinović said that one of the criteria for receiving funding was a joint application by member states and third countries.

The three ministers also discussed the possibility of Albania and Montenegro using funding from pre-accession funds.

Lleshaj said it was most important to concentrate on the scale of illegal migration in Albania to reduce the flow of migrants to the EU. "We know that if we close the land border the flow will be diverted across the sea border. If we take all these facts into account, we are ready to strengthen trilateral cooperation. With Croatia's mentorship, we could have better access to EU funding," the Albanian minister said.

Nuhodžić said that migration challenges continued to have a global dimension and that no country could effectively combat illegal migration without cooperating with other countries. "All three countries, being NATO members, share security risks and have an obligation to coordinate their activities in tackling these challenges," the Montenegrin interior minister said.

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

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

15 Migrants, Including 6 Children, Rescued on Plješivica Mountain

ZAGREB, January 16, 2019 - Thanks to the efforts of the police, emergency medical services, firefighters and Winter Road Maintenance, six children, five women and four men who illegally entered Croatia as migrants have been rescued from severe winter weather, the Interior Ministry said on Wednesday.

Police caught a number of persons in need of medical assistance on Plješivica mountain in severe weather on Tuesday afternoon. Given the inaccessible terrain and high snow, firefighters and Winter Road Maintenance were called in to clear the snow.

The children aged 1 to 10 and the women received medical assistance on the scene before being taken to Gospić General Hospital. Two women were hospitalised while the other persons are at a local police station for identification.

The Interior Ministry last month warned that the winter weather could be fatal for everyone, notably vulnerable groups, attempting to illegally enter Croatia.

Today the ministry called on NGOs and others doing humanitarian work with migrants on the Balkan route to inform them about the rules for legally entering Croatia and to warn them about the dangers of attempting to enter illegally.

More news on the migrant situation in Croatia and the region can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Six Albanian Migrants Arrested After Attack on Police

ZAGREB, January 14, 2019 - Six Albanian migrants who were accommodated at the Ježevo registration centre for refugees and migrants near Zagreb were placed in investigative custody on Monday after causing a brawl in the centre and assaulting the police, Zagreb County Court stated on Monday.

They were remanded in custody after being declared a flight risk.

The incident happened at 8 am this past Wednesday, after one of the six migrants who are Albanian citizens assaulted a policeman on duty. The attacker was supported by one of his compatriots. However, the two attackers were overpowered by the police officers on duty. A half an hour later, another four Albanians in the accommodation centre caused another scuffle, attacking two police officers. The other policemen arrived at the scene and overpowered the assailants, according to the information provided by the court.

Three police officers sustained light injuries in the incidents.

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

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Interior Ministry and Jesuit Refugee Service to Cooperate in Refugee Integration

ZAGREB, December 27, 2018 - Interior Minister Davor Božinović and Jesuit Refugee Service director Tvrtko Barun on Thursday signed an agreement on cooperation in the integration of persons relocated from Turkey whereby Croatia, according to the minister, is confirming it is an open country and that it is willing to receive a certain number of persons who meet international protection requirements.

Croatia is confirming the continuity of its policy of receiving people in need of international aid and that it can relate to the problems of people who cannot have safe lives in their home countries, but it is doing so in a rational and sustainable way, Božinović said after the signing ceremony at the ministry.

He recalled that in 2015 the government adopted a decision on the integration of 150 refugees but that the decision was implemented by the next government in 2017. In October 2017, the government adopted a decision on the integration of another 100 refugees and the agreement signed today applies to them, given that the initial 152 refugees from Syria have been successfully integrated, he said.

That is what Croatia committed to do, and when it comes to the relocation of refugees from Italy, Croatia has expressed greater willingness than was the willingness of those people to come to Croatia, given that only 82 have been integrated, Božinović said.

The integration process requires the cooperation of a number of institutions, he said, adding that there have been no problems with integration in local communities. "It's in our interest that those people start leading normal lives, that children go to school and their parents work," he said, adding that Croatia, although a transit country, wanted to contribute to an internationally acceptable model for dealing with the refugee issue.

However, Croatia cannot withstand or take on the burden of the unsuccessful migration policy on the global front which we have been witnessing this century, Božinović said.

On the one hand, refugee relocation is an expression of international solidarity and a sharing of responsibility with the countries hit hardest by refugee pressure, while on the other it is a tool for managing migration so as to prevent human trafficking, Božinović said.

"In this way Croatia confirms its policy, which has been presented many times both to the Croatian and the international public, that Croatia is an open country, but that it will protect its borders. Croatia will be able to draw 430,000 euro in aid to integration activities led by the Jesuit Refugee Service," Božinović said.

The head of the Jesuit Refugee Service for Southeast Europe, Tvrtko Barun, said they were happy and proud to be able to put their knowledge and experience at the disposal of Croatia, the Ministry of the Interior and the non-governmental sector to help with the integration of about 100 refugees to be resettled from Turkey to Croatia.

The refugee integration programme includes learning of the Croatian language and employment as the final goal for long-term integration.

Barun said it would help refugees to become effectively integrated into society, receive money for everyday living expenses and contribute to society in which they have found safety and protection.

Unlike irregular migrants, these people know that Croatia will be the country of their future and as soon as they come, they will start the process of integration with language learning. Children are included in classes very quickly and can speak the language well within two or three months, helping their parents to integrate sooner, Barun said.

He said that finding work would not be a problem because a lot of employers were interested in cooperation.

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

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Croatian Politics 2018: A Year in Review

Years pass, but some things never change in Croatian politics. The year which is about to end has again been full of drama and scandals, and just occasional good news. Remarkably, many of the same issues which you will read about here have featured prominently in our reviews for 2016 and 2017 as well, which just shows that most problems in Croatia are just swept under the rug and never solved. What follows is Croatian Politics 2018, a review of events which will be remembered from the past year, as reported by TCN.

The year began with tensions in the Bay of Piran, part of the Adriatic Sea which Croatia and Slovenia both claim. In late 2017, Slovenia decided to implement the decision by arbitration tribunal which awarded Slovenia most of the bay. However, Croatia has refused to accept the decision, saying that the arbitration process was compromised by Slovenian government representatives who were in collusion with a supposedly independent arbitrator. The tensions raged for a few weeks, with MEPs proposing military solutions and war veterans talking about organising a rather provocative regatta. Eventually, reason prevailed, and the tensions died down. However, the issue is still unresolved, despite assurances to the opposite, with Croatia calling for negotiations and Slovenia insisting on the implementation of the arbitration decision. You are sure to read about this dispute in our 2019 review as well, particularly given Slovenia’s decision to file a lawsuit against Croatia.

Relations with Serbia are always in the focus of interest, and this year was no exception. In January, the government was surprised to hear that President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović had invited Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to visit Croatia officially. After a short argument over who is really leading Croatia’s foreign policy, Vučić arrived in Zagreb. While the visit mostly went well, the relations between the two countries deteriorated steadily throughout the year and the debate about whether Vučić should have been invited at all continued. Another turn for the worse took place in April when a Croatian parliamentary delegation’s visit to Belgrade was cut short after an incident in the Serbian parliament caused by a notorious Serbian MP and war criminal Vojislav Šešelj. Tension rose again in August when the anniversary of Operation Storm is traditionally celebrated, marking Croatia’s liberation of previously occupied territories in 1995. Serbian President Vučić gave a series of provocative statements, including comparing Croatia to Hitler.

As for the economy, January brought the first worrying signs about the future of Croatian shipyards, a low number of new orders, and about the government’s apparent unwillingness to continue to cover shipyards’ losses. Later in the year, the crisis in the Uljanik shipyard in Pula and its 3. Maj branch in Rijeka would feature prominently in our reporting. Workers spent months striking due to unpaid wages. As the year ends, the situation is still dire and “strategic partners” which the government hopes to find are nowhere to be seen.

“Reforms” is one of the most popular words of Croatian politicians. Every year in January we can hear officials saying that the year ahead is “the year of reforms” which will make Croatia much more prosperous. Needless to say, these promises are never fulfilled, and 2018 did not disappoint. The issue served the president well since she was able to attack the government for lack of reform efforts whenever it suited her.

Ideological debates and historical revisionism attempts continued in 2018 as well. In February, the government-appointed historical commission published its recommendations on issues related to the authoritarian regimes from Croatia’s past, but the conclusions did not satisfy anyone, except for the prime minister, who likes to pretend that the recommendations have solved the problem.

The year which is about to end has again brought us the problem of censorship, questions about media freedoms, warnings about the rise of the far right, separate commemorations held in Jasenovac, the parliament refusing to sponsor anti-fascism events, people destroying flower beds because they reminded them of communism, historical revisionism on the public television, assaults on journalists, satirists receiving death threats, “suspect” politicians being assaulted, photos of Tito slipping from under Croatia’s coat of arms, former prime ministers being sentenced for corruption, and media regulators receiving death threats.

The Catholic Church is undoubtedly part of the political life in Croatia, so it is no wonder that rumours about changes coming to its leadership draw considerable attention. While nothing has been confirmed, it is expected that the Archbishop of Zagreb, Cardinal Josip Bozanić, could be replaced in the new year. In the meantime, the church has continued to receive vast amounts of money from the state budget, meddle in politics, as well as advise the government on the new abortion law, 

The demographic crisis continued, with high emigration and low birth rates bringing down the number of inhabitants. The president and the government argued about who and what was to blame. The president even presented her measures to solve the problem, which were soon forgotten, and demanded a special session of the government, which never took place. Proposals were presented on how to convince people not to move, as many sectors faced a lack of workers, while many schools started closing down. The extent of the crisis was such that even Serbian President Vučić became "worried." The only “good news” came at the end of the year when reports claimed that the emigration wave was calming down because everybody who wanted and could have left already did.

One of the issues we write regularly in these annual reviews is the construction of Pelješac Bridge, which will connect the Dubrovnik area with the rest of Croatia without the need for travellers to pass through a short stretch of Bosnian territory. After many years of delays, the project has finally moved into the implementation phase. Early in the year, a decision was made to award the tender for the construction to a Chinese consortium, despite protests made by Bosnia and Herzegovina that the bridge could not be constructed before the border between the two countries in the area is defined. The decision to award the contract to a Chinese bidder also brought about a marked change in relations between Croatia and China, which were later further improved by high-level meetings and visits.

Another perennial issue is the future of INA, Croatia’s national oil company, which is owned jointly by the Croatian government and MOL, Hungarian national oil company. In 2016, the prime minister announced that Croatia would buy back MOL’s share of INA. Two years later, nothing has changed. Earlier this year, the government selected financial advisors for the buyback, but the contract with them was never signed. One of the main issues is the future of the INA refinery in Sisak. While in January the relevant minister said he was optimistic about the refinery’s future, by the end of the year he apparently changed his opinion. Another issue is Croatia’s arrest warrant for MOL’s CEO, which Hungary does not want to implement.

Another year has passed, and the supposedly “strategic” project of an LNG terminal on the island of Krk has again gone nowhere. Multi-year delays have continued. The government announced two tenders trying to find out who would be interested in using the terminal once it is built (if that ever happens), but the results were dismal. Just two government-owned companies applied, presumably after receiving a nudge from officials to send their applications and help the government avoid a total disaster. While the project receives verbal support from foreign governments, no one seems to be interested in sending binding offers to use its capacity.

One piece of good business news was the apparently successful conclusion to the worst part of the crisis in Agrokor, one of Croatia’s largest and most important companies. The agreement between creditors was concluded, thanks mostly to Russian banks, although not without an accompanying scandal about high fees paid to consultants, some of whom actually took part in the secretive process of writing the special law which the government adopted to save the company from collapse. The scandal took out Deputy Prime Minister Martina Dalić and government-appointed commissioner Ante Ramljak, who had to resign under pressure. E-mails were published which showed that the prime minister knew more about the dealings than he initially admitted, but he managed to escape more or less unharmed. Agrokor’s former owner Ivica Todorić, who fled earlier to London to avoid arrest, was extradited to Croatia late in the year, after multiple delays and court proceedings. Even Tony Blair’s wife could not help him. He has since been released on bail and is currently awaiting possible indictment. The legal proceedings are expected to last for many years.

Good economic news brought us the first upgrade in Croatia’s credit rating since 2004. Unemployment numbers were also down, although more due to mass emigration than to economic revival. Good tourism results, especially in the pre-season and post-season, helped Croatia achieve planned economic growth for 2018 (still among the lowest in the EU). Slightly more moderate growth is expected in 2019, with the lack of reforms being the main culprit. The budget recorded another good year, with spending and revenues being more or less balanced, while the public debt has continued to decline. The year ended with another round of tax cuts and pension reform. Croatia has also announced plans that it will adopt the euro as its currency. The process is expected to last many years.

The ratification of the convention on preventing violence against women, the so-called Istanbul Convention, somewhat unexpectedly turned into a crisis for the government in April when a large group of HDZ MPs decided to vote against the proposal, despite prime minister’s insistence that it should be ratified. While the convention was easily adopted thanks to opposition support, it turned into another attempt by HDZ’s right wing to weaken or possibly topple Plenković as party leader and prime minister. Just like several other similar attempts, it did not succeed.

A national security issue which has drawn a lot of media attention throughout the year is the acquisition of military fighter jets. The decision was first delayed for years, then it was supposed to be made in 2017, but again delayed first to early 2018, and then beyond. After much lobbying, the government finally decided to buy 12 F-16s from Israel. The questions about the deal persisted, with many asking why Croatia was “rejuvenating” its air force with ancient aircraft. By the end of the year, the contract for the deal has not yet been signed, amid disputes between the United States and Israel about what equipment Israel can legally sell to Croatia. Grand plans about “strategic cooperation” with Israel also appear to be on hold. Defence Minister Damir Krstičević has invested a great deal of personal effort in the deal, but the acquisition is still in question, and its final fate is yet to be determined.

As expected, the political circus took a break in June due to the World Cup in Russia. While the break was initially expected to last just a couple of weeks, until the Croatian national team is eliminated in the first phase of the competition as usual, its spectacular success extended the political break to a full month and more. Of course, leading politicians did not miss this opportunity to travel to Russia and have their picture taken with footballers and fans. Needless to say, even this occasion, which was supposed to unite the country, brought divisions, primarily due to an appearance by a controversial singer at the homecoming ceremony, which was attended by hundreds of thousands of people.

The Istanbul Convention ratification prompted one of this year’s two referendum initiatives to be launched. The other effort involved proposed changes to the election laws, which would substantially reduce the rights of national minorities to elect their MPs. The government was against the referendums, while the president seemed to be of a different opinion. While both initiatives claimed they had gathered enough signatures for the referendums to be held, the government checked the signatures and conveniently found enough irregularities to lower the number of accepted signatures below the required threshold. This was just one of several attempts to pressure the government from the right.

One of the rare reforms which have begun, at least nominally, is the reform of Croatia’s education system, the so-called “curricular reform.” The issue has caused conflicts between coalition partners, with HNS repeatedly threatening to leave the government if their proposals are not accepted. Their threats were not taken seriously by anyone since it is clear that early parliamentary elections would probably bring about an end for the party.

A scandal broke in September whose consequences are still unclear at this time. A ministerial driver was arrested under suspicion that he had informed a suspect about a police investigation against him. Interestingly, the driver is a close friend of Milijan Brkić, HDZ deputy president and Prime Minister Plenković’s chief intraparty nemesis. While Brkić has denied having any role in the scandal or leaking the information about the investigation, he has been conspicuously absent from public affairs in recent months. Other scandals involving Brkić have also resurfaced, prompting allegations that his opponents were trying to eliminate him politically. On the other hand, some potentially embarrassing documents about him suddenly disappeared. The scandal has even reached the president’s office, with the national security advisor resigning in December under still unclear circumstances.

Relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the connected issue of the status of Croats in the neighbouring country, were at the forefront of Croatia’s foreign policy efforts in 2018. With October elections looming, the year began with Bosnian Croats warning that the election law was unfair and that it could lead to a Croat representative in the Bosnian presidency being elected by more numerous Bosniaks. That is precisely what happened, with candidate Željko Komšić winning the post, although he apparently did not have the support of the majority of Bosnian Croats. This prompted Croatia’s government to launch a campaign within the EU to pressure Bosnia into changing its election law, which then brought accusations about meddling in internal affairs of the neighbouring country.

One of the potentially most explosive events of this year was a war veterans’ protest held in Vukovar in October. The veterans complained about the lack of prosecution of persons suspected of committing war crimes against Croats in the Vukovar area in 1991, which was a problem which they discussed earlier in the year as well. However, many believed that the protest was actually just a guise for a right-wing attempt to bring down the government led by moderate Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and replace him as HDZ president with a more extremist candidate. Plenković and his team appeared at first worried that the attempt might succeed, but with time they managed to limit its consequences. Once held, the protest passed without incident and has been more or less forgotten, except when occasional arrests in the area do happen, which then draw condemnation from local Serbs who say the police is arresting then just to satisfy the Croat war veterans. In the meantime, tensions in the town continue.

Throughout the year, rumours about impending ruling coalition reshuffle and/or early parliamentary elections continued. However, unlike in 2017, which brought about a change in the ruling coalition composition, with MOST being replaced by HNS, this year the government was more or less stable. One potential candidate for another reshuffle was Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, whose parliamentary group somehow manages to “convince” previously opposition MPs to switch parties and cross to his side. Numerous legal proceedings against him have not made him any less desirable patron. The substantial Zagreb city budget which he controls probably has something to do with it. In two years, he has managed to increase the number of his MPs from 1 to 12, with additional expansion of his parliamentary group expected early in the new year. The fact that people did not vote for his party did not discourage him at all. There are rumours that Bandić will use the increase in the number of his MPs, who are crucial for the parliamentary majority, to demand several ministerial posts in the new year.

As for the opposition, turmoil in SDP continued, with several attempts being made to topple the party president and “the leader of the opposition” Davor Bernardić. Fortunately for SDP opponents, these attempts have been unsuccessful, so Bernardić remains in his seat while his party’s popularity continues to plummet, with the latest polls showing it dropping to the third position, behind HDZ and Živi Zid. An increasing number of SDP MPs are leaving the party, with some of them joining the government ranks.

The migrant crisis continued, particularly on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the police employing ever harsher measures to control the borders and NGOs publishing increasingly critical reports about the alleged police violence and irregularities. The police have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, despite video evidence to the contrary.

The migration issue also brought us another controversy, this time with the signing of the Global Compact for Migration in December. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, who this year marked three years in office, initially supported the agreement, but then suddenly changed her mind, announcing she would not travel to Marrakesh where the UN conference was held. The government immediately said that Croatia would support the declaration nevertheless, which caused protests from right-wing circles. In the end, the non-binding resolution was supported by Croatia, but no-one really expects it will be implemented.

The final few days of the year brought us another major scandal, whose consequences will become clear in the following months. The president decided to dismiss her domestic policy adviser Mate Radeljić, who many believed had influenced the president to take a more critical position towards the government. After he was dismissed, Radeljić said he was threatened by a Security-Intelligence Agency (SOA) official not to try to damage the president politically after being dismissed. He was allegedly told that the agency was ready to run into him with a car if necessary. The president’s office and the SOA issued statements saying they had acted legally, but interestingly they did not outright deny all of Radeljić’s claims. It is expected that Radeljić’s dismissal will result in better relations between the president on the one side and the government and HDZ leadership on the other, just in time for the presidential elections next year.

Another exciting political year is ahead of us. It will include at least two elections (for European Parliament in May, and for president probably in December), and there is always a possibility the early parliamentary elections might take place. Stay with TCN for all the latest political and business news.


Friday, 21 December 2018

Electronic Media Council Members Receive Death Threats

ZAGREB, December 21, 2018 - The Electronic Media Council said on Friday its members had received death threats following their decision to take six local television stations off the air for up to 24 hours over hate speech targeting migrants.

The programme in question was aired on November 6 and the six local TV stations had their broadcasting licences temporarily stripped on December 3. Three TV stations were taken off the air for 24 hours and three for four hours.

The threats were made by an as yet unidentified person or persons. They have been reported to the police and an investigation has been launched, the Council said in a statement.

The Council said that it would continue to perform its duties professionally and would not tolerate any hate speech in the public media sector regardless of its source or target.

Last month, after analysing the content of the talk show, which dealt with the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the Electronic Media Council decided that claims made in the show, hosted by Velimir Bujanec, constituted hate speech because they described migrants as terrorists and criminals and as people who intentionally spread infectious diseases. The show's guests were Frano Ćirko, who was introduced as the leader of an organisation called Generacija Obnove, and Zoran Grgić, introduced as an independent analyst.

"The show host did not distance himself from such hate-mongering rhetoric, except for describing it as 'a bit radical', which cannot be considered an appropriate warning that such rhetoric is not allowed... the host himself set the tone of the discussion and incited hate-mongering, discriminatory and humiliating rhetoric against migrants," the Council said.

Its chair Josip Popovac stressed that the Council's decision in no way violated the freedom of speech, noting that there were no forbidden topics but that they should be dealt with professionally, which was not the case with the show in question.

Speaking of the accountability of the guests on the said show, Popovac said that he agreed with the proposal to report the case to the Chief State Prosecutor, noting that "such abuse of public media is unacceptable".

More news on the media issues in Croatia can be found in our Business section.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Allegations of Syrian Migrant Who Said Croatian Police Separated Him from Daughter Were False

ZAGREB, December 21, 2018 - Syrian migrant Wadie Ghazi Sineid, who claimed that Croatian police separated him from his daughter, came to Europe alone, according to Interpol data, Interior Minister Davor Božinović said on Friday, adding that this case showed that the institute of international protection was frequently abused.

In September, after Croatia returned him to Bosnia and Herzegovina, from which he had illegally entered Croatia, Sineid told Bosnian media that Croatian police had separated him from his daughter.

Božinović said the police immediately did everything they did in case of missing persons, notably children, finding that in all the countries Sineid had passed through on his way to Croatia - Turkey, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina - the Syrian migrant was registered without a child.

Croatian police also contacted police in Syria and Lebanon, Božinović told reporters. Damascus said that Sineid had left Syria in 2011 and that since then they had had no information about him and his daughter, while Beirut said they had no information about his family.

Božinović said that according to current information, Sineid was registered in the Netherlands in October and that it was not known if he had contacted anyone in Croatia.

"This example shows that the institute of international protection is often abused," he said, adding that over 80% of the people eligible to apply for asylum or some other form of international protection in Croatia disappeared during the procedure as they had freedom of movement. This shows that Croatia is not their goal and that they use those mechanisms to go a step further, he added.

Commenting on media criticisms of Croatian police brutality towards migrants on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Božinović said they checked each such report and that so far there had been no instances of violence, only acts of deterrence from the border.

As for accusations that Croatian police prevented migrants from applying for asylum, Božinović said that of the 7,500 people caught illegally entering Croatia, over 1,000 had applied for asylum or international protection.

"Everyone who wants to say that Croatia doesn't respect the law or that it is closed like some other countries, the facts and the numbers refute that," he said, adding that Croatia would be glad to let those people move on to other European Union countries if they wanted to receive them.

More news on Croatia’s migrant policies can be found in our Politics section.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Croatia Gets 6.8 Million Euro from EU to Strengthen Border Management

ZAGREB, December 20, 2018 - The European Commission on Thursday decided to make available an additional 305 million euro in emergency assistance to support migration and border management in Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Croatia, and Croatia will receive 6.8 million euro of the amount.

"The Commission is awarding 6.8 million euro to Croatia to help reinforce border management at the EU's external borders, in full respect of EU rules," the Commission stated in a press release.

"The funding will help strengthen border surveillance and law enforcement capacity by covering the operational costs of 10 border police stations through the provision of the daily allowances, over-time compensation and equipment. A monitoring mechanism will be put in place to ensure that all measures applied at the EU external borders are proportionate and are in full compliance with fundamental rights and EU asylum laws.

"Today's award brings the overall emergency funding for migration and border management allocated to Croatia by the Commission to almost 23.2 million euro. This comes on top of nearly 108 million euro allocated to Croatia under the national programmes of the Asylum Migration and Integration Fund and the Internal Security Fund 2014-2020," reads the press release.

The total funding will support efforts to increase reception capacity, protect victims of human trafficking and strengthen border surveillance and management capacity, and Greece is given 289 million euro for the following purposes: rental accommodation and allowances (190 million euro), reception conditions (61 million euro), search and rescue (33 million euro) plus 357,000 euro to provide blankets, winter jackets and winterisation kits.

The Commission is awarding 5.3 million euro in emergency funding to the Italian authorities to help protect victims of human trafficking in the context of migration.

The European Commission is awarding 3.1 million euro to Cyprus to step up its reception capacity and transform the temporary emergency centre "Pournaras" into a fully-fledged first reception centre.

More news on Croatia’s migrant policies can be found in our Politics section.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

NGO Files Complaint against Police for Unlawful Migrant Expulsions

ZAGREB, December 18, 2018 - The Peace Studies Centre (CMS) on Tuesday filed with the prosecutorial authorities (DORH) a criminal report accusing unidentified police officers of behaving unlawfully towards migrants at Croatia's border with Bosnia. The police have allegedly conducted unlawful migrant expulsions.

The criminal report, lodged with DORH on International Migrants Day observed on 18 December, was prompted by a video footage released by the international organisation Border Violence Monitoring purportedly corroborating the suspicion that Croatian police systematically expel groups of migrants on the external border of the European Union back to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Croatian Ministry of the Interior dismissed the claim, insisting that border police were applying the principle of deterrence.

The CMS and the Welcome initiative insist that DORH should conduct an effective investigation that will result in the penalisation of the perpetrators.

They also insist that Interior Minister Davor Božinović, the national chief of police, Nikola Milina, and the head of the border police, Zoran Ničeno, should resign, claiming that they failed to ensure the conduct of the police in compliance with law.

Activist Sara Kekuš told a news conference Tuesday that numerous testimonies of refugees and warnings made over two years about the unlawful police behaviour, as well as the latest footage were sufficient to corroborate the claims that it was necessary to launch an investigation.

Kekuš said that it was of utmost importance that the police cease behaving unlawfully and violently at the border.

Police chief Milina on Sunday dismissed accusations against Croatian police over their treatment of migrants, saying that no cases of beating have been found. "Police guard the state border in accordance with the law and their professional standards. We have checked all recent reports of illegalities and have found no cases of beating," Milina told public broadcaster HRT in a prime-time news programme on Sunday evening.

More news on Croatia’s policies towards migrants can be found in our Politics section.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Police Chief: No Abuse of Migrants by Croatian Police

ZAGREB, December 17, 2018 - The national chief of police, Nikola Milina, has dismissed accusations against Croatian police over their treatment of migrants, saying that no cases of beating have been found.

"Police guard the state border in accordance with the law and their professional standards. We have checked all recent reports of illegalities and have found no cases of beating," Milina told public broadcaster HRT in a prime-time news programme on Sunday evening.

He commended the police for their outstanding performance, saying that over 547 smugglers had been processed to date, the largest number on record.

Milina resolutely rejected accusations that Croatian police were entering the territory of neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina. "That's not true. We enter Bosnia and Herzegovina's territory only in accordance with the cross-border police cooperation agreement, as part of joint patrols and regular activities with our colleagues from Bosnia and Herzegovina."

"So far this year, we have received 1,039 asylum claims, which shows that we are not violating human rights," Milina said when asked how police treated migrants on the border and whether they allowed them to apply for asylum. He said that the main task of the police is to protect lives, adding that Croatian police were helping migrants, providing them with medical assistance, food and so on.

Milina said that an estimated 5,000 migrants were currently staying in Bosnia and Herzegovina. "We are exchanging information on an ongoing basis with Bosnia and Herzegovina and all other countries on the migrant route. Estimates differ and change from day to day, but according to some, currently there are about 5,000 migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

Speaking of the purpose of the Interior Ministry's appeal addressed to international and local non-governmental organisations providing humanitarian assistance to migrants along the Balkan route, Milina said: "We want to protect lives, we want as few people as possible coming to grief. We've had nine deaths this year alone."

He said that false information is often spread via social networks that the border is open or will be opened and then migrants start towards the border. He noted that criminal networks also put migrants in danger.

In the meantime, Bosnia and Herzegovina's Security Minister Dragan Mektić said on Sunday that police in his country had evidence showing that Croatian police were forcing illegal migrants back to Bosnia and Herzegovina and abusing them in the process.

"It's a disgrace for a European country, a member of the European Union. Police are involved in migrant smuggling and are forcing them into illegal migration. We have warned of this several times," Mektić told the regional N1 television network.

The Croatian Ministry of the Interior dismissed such claims, saying that Croatian border police were applying the principle of deterrence in accordance with Croatian law, and that none of the alleged cases of abuse had been verified by checks.

Mektić made the statement while commenting on footage aired by German ARD television, which said that this proved that by forcing migrants back to Bosnia and Herzegovina Croatian police were violating Croatian laws and international conventions.

Mektić added that Bosnian security services had gathered evidence confirming the accusations by the German television channel. "We have evidence proving that they (Croatian police) are doing that, physically abusing and beating migrants. We also have evidence showing that they even abuse families and underaged children," Mektić said.

More news on the migrant situation on the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be found in our Politics section.

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