Saturday, 25 January 2020

Croatia Border Town Shaken By Migrant Burglaries: Ilok Locals Live in Fear

While EU politicians, leaders, foreign journalists and human rights organizations play political football, assign blame and discuss solutions for the migrant crisis along the Balkan Route; frightened residents of Croatia border towns, like the town of Ilok, are locking themselves in their homes at night out of fear of burglaries and much worse.

“We are scared! In the middle of the night, we caught migrant burglars circling our house. I thought my son was going to work, but sensed something suspicious and saw two masked people at our front door,” reported one shaken Ilok local.

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(Note that Hungary has built an electric fence spanning its border, which has halted migration.)

Croatia Police Not Publicly Reporting Ilok Migrant Burglaries

In the Fall of 2015, during the great migrant crisis, more than half a million migrants passed through Eastern Croatia on their way to more economically desirable Western European countries. Not a single major incident, or even any minor incidents, were reported during the entire relocation process. However, four years later, locals in some border towns in the same part of Eastern Croatia are living in fear, according to Branimir Bradarić/Večernji List on January 25, 2020. Migrants are entering their towns and villages and burglarizing shops, and a recent attempt was even made to break into a house. There have been also reports of car theft and one incident ended with a car accident in which several migrants were injured while trying to escape authorities in a stolen vehicle.

All this has happened over the last half year but there were signs of trouble even before then. However the police have avoided discussing these burglaries in their regular reports the media. Therefore, frightened residents have decided to go public with these incidents on their own. The situation has deteriorated most notably in the Eastern Croatia city of Ilok, where residents are no longer willing to remain silent about their fears for safety in their own homes.

Frightened Ilok Residents Reporting Migrant Burglaries Directly to Media

The last in a series of frightening events occurred ten days ago when two migrants, dressed in dark hooded jackets, tried to break into the home of the Lončar family in Ilok. Remembering that day, Irjana Lončar recalls hearing noises around 4:30am.

“We were sleeping when I heard noises in the yard and by the door. It sounded like someone was walking nearby and I thought it was my son leaving for work. But the lights were off, which was strange, so I got up to see what was happening. At that moment, I saw two unfamiliar masked people at our front door. They were trying to force our door open by destroying the lock with a device, which I think was a drill. I started screaming and yelled for my husband, but the two burglars had escaped by then,” recalls Lončar, who was still trembling with fear.

Since the lock was destroyed, her husband could not get the front door open immediately. After succeeding, he jumped into their car and tried to follow the migrant burglars. Irjana watched from the window as the pair fled down the road. Later, she discovered that the burglars had also been trespassing in their yard and had broken into their attic, where they stole two knives and a knife sharpener. They swiped the Lončar’s New Year's light decorations and made off with her husband's hunting backpack. Then she discovered that the pair had tried to open the kitchen window with a sharp object to enter the house from there. Police responded to her call for help very quickly, but by that time the migrants had long vanished into the darkness.

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Ilok Residents Concerned for Safety and Property

“I'm really scared now. From that day, my life has not been the same. I have a difficult time sleeping and am always on the alert for unusual noises. Every little noise will jolt me wide awake as does the sound of barking dogs. I'm afraid that they'll try to break into my house again. And, I'm particularly scared because nobody knows what these people are prepared to do. Nor does anyone know what they would have done if they had entered our house, or how it all could have ended. We just want to feel safe in our town again, and especially safe in our own home. Unfortunately, that's not the case anymore,” Lončar admits.

She adds that, after their burglary, they started hearing about several similar break-ins throughout town – and other locals have witnessed migrants breaking into homes. She claims that there are currently several unoccupied houses in Ilok, and migrants are breaking into them so they can hide temporarily before continuing their journey further into the interior of Croatia and the rest of Europe.

The Ilok locals have also reported finding discarded clothing all over town as migrants change their clothes before continuing their journey westward. There have also been reports of migrants crossing the border and continuing down the road before they are caught by police.

Ilok Break Ins and Burglaries Widespread

Jadranka Tomašić’s shop has also been hit by migrants. They have succeeded in burglarizing her shop in two out of three attempts. In both of those cases, according to Tomašić, they stole certain brands of cigarettes, some alcohol and Nescafé. About 20,000 HRK (2687 EUR) of merchandise has been stolen from her shop, and the front door of her store was damaged too. They also ran off with all the cash they found.

“I do not feel safe here anymore, and I am not the only one. Other Ilok residents don’t feel safe in their town either. In addition to everything else, you can see the effects of fear in front of elementary schools at the end of the school day. Parents are now coming to school in cars to pick up their children. People are locking themselves in their homes before dark and are avoiding going out in the evening. No matter how you look at it, the situation is not at all simple or straightforward,” Tomašić reveals with concern.

She adds that in addition to the burglaries in her shop, there have been burglaries in the suburban settlements of Bapska and Šarengrad. After the burglary in Šarengrad, the perpetrators were apprehended. After one of the burglaries at her store, a large knife was found, which was to be believed to have belonged to migrants. She also recalls a situation that occurred last summer when a migrant tent was found in a corn field across the street from her store, during the corn harvest. It was in a populated part of Ilok and nobody aware of that it was there until the harvest.

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‘We just want to live and work normally’

“We just want to live and work normally, but that's not the case now. The worst part is that feeling of insecurity. These people have shown no fear, and that is why we are very afraid. It really bothers me that nobody is talking about this. I have no objection to the job the police are doing and do not expect that they, or the mayor, will be able do something overnight. They cannot do anything because they do not have the necessary tools, but this problem must be addressed in a systematic way,” Tomašić points out. She adds that many locals have been reporting burglaries, including those who have had their safes broken into and contents stolen.

The well-known Ilok agronomist and winemaker Ivan Buhač was also hit by migrants, but he managed to avoid burglary. He left his unlocked vehicle parked outside his house. Someone entered it and wanted to start it up and drive off. As the keys were not inside; they emptied the vehicle in search for the keys. However, the car itself was undamaged.

“The fact is that these incidents, which are extremely unusual for Ilok, happen regularly now and so it's not surprising that people do not to feel safe. Recently, burglaries and attempted burglaries have been reported in people’s homes. We all hope that this will all end soon and that we can go back to living normally, because this is not definitely the case now,” Buhač admits.

Commenting on recent events, Ilok Mayor Marina Budimir says the city authorities are aware of the problem and are in constant contact with the Croatia Interior Ministry and police in Ilok.

Ilok Police and Mayor: No Reason to Panic

“Everyone is working as hard as they can to resolve this problem, but I don't think there is any reason to panic. The problem is very present, and it’s important to compare how our residents live now as opposed to before: how they move about in town and go to work and school. Unfortunately, this problem in Ilok will continue since we are right on migrant route through Croatia from Serbia and beyond. Another problem is that the migrant camp in Serbia is located near the border crossing. Migrants are housed there, but they can leave the camp freely. That's why this is happening,” says the frustrated mayor.

She is also quick to point out that she has demanded increased police surveillance of the border and adds that there haven’t been any reported attacks on residents so far. The mayor also indicates that movement over the eastern border will be harder to detect as vegetation begins to grow again, which will make monitoring more difficult. Nevertheless, police have surveillance equipment in place. Indeed,  police patrols are more visible in Ilok and the surrounding area. Unofficial reports from the police indicate that the border has been steadily monitored for months, and that the burglaries and break-ins in Ilok are indeed a problem, but they do not consider this problem dangerous because there haven't been any reports of violence or threats.

Croatia Police Point Out Two Types of Migrants

They also explain that the two types of migrants should be distinguished. There are passers-by who are trying to somehow cross the border illegally and move on. The others, who are thought to be causing the problems in Ilok, are located along the border crossing at the camp in Principovac, which they consider to be the main issue. They can move freely in that camp, and illegally cross the Croatian border to steal from locals so that they can raise money for travel to the West.

The stolen goods are then resold at the migrant camp, which was confirmed by the recent case of two migrants who were arrested after breaking into a shop in Šarengrad. After that, police claim, the burglary indicents stopped. Officers understand the Ilok residents’ sense of insecurity but say that there is absolutely no reason to panic and that the police are on the ground doing their job.

Follow our Politics page for updates on the migrant crisis in Croatia.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Slovenian NGOs Urge Authorities to Cease Returning Migrants to Croatia

LJUBLJANA, January 25, 2020 - Slovenian non-governmental organizations have called on their government to cancel the agreement with Croatia on the return of illegal migrants, citing reports of alleged inhumane treatment by the Croatian police.

Representatives of Amnesty International Slovenia (AIS), the Legal-Informational Centre for NGOs (PIC) and the association called Asylum Working Group held on Friday a press conference where they warned about the inhumane conditions in refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, about the unlawful conduct of the Slovenian police who return migrants to Croatia and about the cruel treatment of asylum seekers by the Croatian police, reports the Slovenia's press agency STA.

This is how "one of the biggest humanitarian crises in Europe" emerges, to which Slovenia is also contributing since it deports migrants it finds on its territory back to Croatia on a massive scale, without giving them any written decision or the possibility of an appeal, Slovenian NGOs say.

According to Blaž Kovač of AIS, there have been numerous testimonies by NGOs and media that Croatian authorities violate the prohibition of torture under the Convention on Human Rights in their treatment of migrants returned from Slovenia. This is why Slovenian authorities should cease implementing the bilateral agreement with Croatia which enables the readmission of potential asylum seekers, he says.

Barbara Vodopivec from the association Asylum Working Group said that it had recently been discovered that the Slovenian police, following internal instructions, had been virtually preventing migrants from seeking asylum in Slovenia, which is why, in her opinion, the interior minister and the director general of the police should consider resigning.

Slovenian Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar said at the beginning of the week that Slovenia had successfully returned 16,000 illegal migrants to Croatia last year and that the trend of illegal entry had been on the rise for the last four years.

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

Friday, 24 January 2020

Germany: Croatian Police Protecting Border Properly

ZAGREB, January 24, 2020 - Germany's Minister of the Interior, Building and Community, Horst Seehofer, said in Zagreb on Thursday that Croatia was protecting the border properly and that he had no objections to the treatment of migrants by Croatian border police.

Asked by reporters whether he considered that in light of criticism by non-governmental organisations of excessive use of force toward migrants, Croatia was appropriately protecting the EU's external border, Seehofer replied affirmatively. "I believe it is," Seehofer told a joint press conference with Croatian Interior Minister Davor Božinović after their bilateral meeting.

"I do not have any criticism of the work of the police in Croatia and other security services," he said.

Seehofer, a former leader of the Christian-Social Union and prime minister of Bavaria, was a sharp critic of Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open door" policy toward migrants at the height of the migrant crisis.

"When it comes to protecting the security of citizens and the state, a strong state is needed to ensure the rule of law. That's how it is in Germany and that's the duty of interior ministers," Seehofer concluded.

Seehofer underscored that he agreed with Božinović "one hundred percent" regarding issues of priorities, security analyses and migrants.

"That will be a topic that we will be concerned with for some time yet," he said and added that Germany will help Croatia as much as it can to protect the EU's external border.

In that context, Germany donated ten thermal-vision cameras to Croatia to supervise border regions which the two ministers inspected after the conference.

Božinović thanked Seehofer for the donation and said that "Germany has always helped" Croatia.

"Croatian police guard the longest external European Union land border and Germany is one of those member states that understands and values what Croatian police are doing," said Božinović.

The German minister agreed with the priorities of Croatia's EU presidency and said that Germany, which will take over the presidency from Croatia in July, will continue Croatia's policies which means that this will be a "year of continuing work."

Božinović underlined that he would cooperate with Seehofer in Combating smuggling rings, and said they agreed that the EU has to help its "Greek friends" more as Greece is the first point of entry for illegal and other migrants from the Middle East toward Europe.

The Index.hr news portal on Wednesday released a video showing that police whose badges were not visible were confiscating mobile phones from migrants.

"It is not true that the police did not have badges. They were wearing badges on one of two spots as required," Božinović said and added that the police were "appropriately prepared."

"As far as the treatment of persons without any identification is concerned, they (police) conducted an absolutely legal procedure toward them," Božinović added.

Slovenia's Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar said on Tuesday that in 2019 Slovenia had returned 16,000 illegal migrants to Croatia.

Božinović underscored that it is necessary to differentiate the "number of procedures" from the number of persons returned because some migrants attempt to cross the border several times, which means that 16,000 police procedures does not necessarily mean 16,000 migrants.

"As you know, migrants who seek protection in Croatia, before Croatian authorities decide on their application, merely disappear from Croatia," Božinović said claiming that that is why migrants are returned to Croatia.

"Someone submits an application for asylum in Croatia, is issued with a certificate of international protection and then disappears," said Božinović.

"Those people are returned when they are caught somewhere in Europe and that is how we get to those numbers," concluded Božinović.

Seehofer arrived in Zagreb for an informal meeting of EU interior ministers on Friday.

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

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Dalmatia Town Opens Migrant Donation Center: Vrgovac, Croatia

The Mayor of Vrgorac, located in the Dalmatia hinterland, who is urging citizens to donate unwanted reusable items, including clothing and footwear, to migrants. The town has made public space available to the Red Cross to receive and store donations.

Vrgorac Mayor Ante Pranić is urging all citizens not to throw away reusable furniture, clothing and footwear that they no longer need but to donate reusable items to migrants, according to Dalmacija Danas on January 21, 2020.

“I am asking citizens to reconsider throwing away clothing and footwear as well as reusable furniture. Namely, in cooperation with the Red Cross, we have agreed on another project to help the needy. I have signed a contract worth 49,287.94 HRK (6625 EUR), which deals with the reuse of empty office space that we have finally registered under city ownership after 20 years. We are allocating that office space to the Red Cross to use as a warehouse where citizens will be able to donate clothing and reusable furniture. We want to help the needy particularly with providing clothing and footwear. We are in a border area and there are often situations where we can help migrants who are in contact with MUP (Croatian Police). Our small reuse center is expected to open on March 1. I am looking forward to it,” said Pranić in a statement on Facebook.

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Vrgorac is a town in Croatia located in Split-Dalmatia County, about 50km from Metković, near the border of Bosnia. According to the 2011 census report, the town has 6,572 inhabitants, the majority of whom are Croatian. Most Vrgorac residents are involved in agriculture, which includes growing and harvesting berries, grapes and various fruit trees. Craft-related industries have recently reemerged and are contributing to the local economy as well. 

As Lauren Simmonds/Total Croatia News reported on January 20, 2020; Mayor Pranić recently prohibited the use of plastic packaging in Vrgorac’s official institutions and various events held throughout the year, stating that they should be replaced by glass and much more environmentally friendly, biodegradable paper packaging.

Follow our Politics page and Lifestyle page to stay updated on community-based donation efforts. For more information on Vrgorac, check out their excellent website (in Croatian) and their bilingual town guide here.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

BiH to Change Policy Towards Migrants Coming to Croatian Border?

ZAGREB, January 16, 2020 - Bosnia and Herzegovina's (BiH) new Security Minister Fahrudin Radončić will step up monitoring on the border with Serbia and Montenegro to stop the influx of illegal migrants from those countries and coordinate activities with ministers of the interior in the region, the Security Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

The statement was issued after a meeting of the operational group in charge of illegal migrations.

Announcing the new approach to dealing with illegal migrations in the country, Radončić said that his ministry could not be the only institution in the country in charge of care for migrants and that all institutions and government agencies should become involved.

Radončić told the heads of local police agencies who are members of the operational group that he would put emphasis on more efficient border control and prevention of illegal arrivals of migrants as well as on strengthening the capacity of the border police and office for aliens, adding that he would also hold talks with the neighbouring countries' ministers of the interior on ways to deal with the problem together.

Due to the winter conditions, the number of illegal migrants arriving in Bosnia and Herzegovina has decreased and currently around 5,500 illegal migrants are staying in reception centres in the country.

The measures announced by Radončić were advocated also by former Security Minister Dragan Mektić but he never received the support of the state leadership for them.

The Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik, resolutely opposed proposals that soldiers be deployed along Bosnia and Herzegovina's eastern border to help police prevent illegal entries, and the state-level leadership has to date not approved the filling of more than 500 vacant police posts.

At the same time, the Bosnian Serb entity authorities are not allowing the opening of reception centres in their territory to relieve the pressure of migrants on the area of Bihać, and officials in almost all communities in the other entity, the Federation, have acted similarly.

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

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

HRW: Croatia Bears No Consequences for Pushbacks of Migrants

ZAGREB, January 15, 2020 - The Human Rights Watch (HRW) warns in its latest annual report on human rights' state of affairs worldwide that despite reports "about illegal and violent pushbacks of migrants by Croatian police into Bosnia and Serbia, in breach of EU refugee and human rights law, Croatia faced no consequences from EU institutions."

This New-York based international non-governmental organisation described these reports as credible.

It cited statistics provided by the Croatian Ministry of Interior which show that "in the first eight months of 2019, 11,813 new migrants and asylum seekers were recorded, mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey, an increase of more than 8,600 compared to the same period in 2018."

"In the same period 974 people claimed asylum and authorities approved 71 asylum requests, including 13 from 2018.

"Croatia reported that it blocked entry to 9,487 people at its borders in the first 8 months of the year," reads the HRW report's section headlined " Croatia Events of 2019 - Part of the EU Chapter".

The HRW organisation also reports that "in January, a Europe-wide universities-led Holocaust Remembrance project found historical revisionism in Croatia among the highest in the European Union".

"During a year that saw several violent attacks on Croatian Serbs, Croatia’s ombudswoman and civil society groups expressed concern about the climate of intolerance against minorities.

Between January and September 2019, Documenta, an NGO, registered 39 war crime cases against 59 defendants before courts in Croatia. In the same period, 15 people were convicted for war-related crimes, including one for sexual violence.

In July 2019, Croatia ratified the Safe Schools Declaration pledging to refrain from the military use of schools in wars. According to the Ombudswoman for Children, Roma children were most deprived group in 2019, with limited access to services, reads the report's section on Croatia.

"Despite the consistent recommendations to Croatia from international bodies to facilitate community-based support for all people with disabilities currently in institutions, Croatia persisted with plans to place adults with disabilities in foster care, publishing a draft law in December 2018. In January 2019, the Ministry of Social Policy indicated that 4,216 adults were placed in 1,481 foster care families," reads the report.

More human rights news can be found in the Politics section.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Plenković: Croatia Won't Become Hotspot for Migrants

ZAGREB, January 14, 2020 - Croatia will not become an informal hotspot for migrants, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in the European Parliament (EP) on Tuesday after several MEPs objected to the way Croatia's police treat illegal migrants.

Croatia will not become a country that will be an informal hotspot, Plenković said and added that unlike other countries, Croatia did not decide to build barricades and barbed wire but to protect the Croatian, European and future Schengen border with 6,500 police officers.

The solution is to protect the external border, particularly between Turkey and Greece where the eastern-Mediterranean and western Balkan routes begin, said Plenković, adding that Europe can act in crisis areas with its humanitarian aid, economic strength, conflict mediation and other tools.

After Plenković presented Croatia's priorities during its presidency of the EU, European Greens leader Ska Keller spoke about reports of alleged violence and abuse by Croatia's police against illegal migrants on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Addressing the EP plenary session, Keller claimed that migrants' belongings were destroyed, they were beaten and even shot at, and that the Croatian government has not stopped this nor investigated it.

That is not acceptable for any member of the EU nor any country anywhere, Keller said. Croatia's borders are Europe's borders, whatever happens there is the responsibility of us all, we will not turn our heads away from that, she concluded.

Plenković responded that in its treatment of migrants, Croatia respects all Croatian and European laws and international conventions and that not one of those accusations should be taken for granted.

I say that as someone who has visited that border area between Croatia with Bosnia and Herzegovina and I completely understand what sort of terrain that is and what the conditions there are like, Plenković said and underscored that all complaints regarding police behaviour are investigated.

Most of the critics of Croatia's migrant policy were from the Greens and the left, including Malin Bjork, who said that she had visited the border between Bosnia and Herzegovina with Croatia and noted that in 2019 alone more than 25,000 pushbacks had occurred there without any administrative procedures being undertaken.

Croatian MEP Tomislav Sokol (HDZ) responded that those were untruths as the reports referred to were not by the relevant bodies. He underlined that Croatia is respecting the law, but Bjork said that in the very short time she visited the border she saw 25 pushbacks.

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

Friday, 10 January 2020

UNHCR Calls on Croatia to Improve Refugee Protection During EU Presidency

ZAGREB, January 10, 2020 - The Croatian and German Presidencies of the European Union in 2020 present opportunities to improve refugee protection, primarily by reforming the asylum system and providing greater support to the countries where most refugees live, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Thursday on the occasion of the start of Croatia's presidency of the Council of the EU.

"The Presidencies and the envisaged Pact on Migration and Asylum present unique opportunities to better protect forcibly displaced and stateless people in Europe and abroad, while supporting host countries," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in its recommendations for the Croatian and German presidencies of the Council of the EU this year.

"As we enter a new decade, and following the success of the Global Refugee Forum, the EU under its Presidencies has the chance to make 2020 the year of change for robust refugee protection," said Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, UNHCR’s Regional Representative for EU Affairs.

UNHCR’s recommendations propose a truly common and workable asylum system within the EU through sustainable reform and revitalised financial support for countries hosting forcibly displaced people outside the EU, the UN agency said in a statement.

"Inside the EU, fair and fast asylum procedures need to be established to quickly determine who needs international protection and who does not. People eligible for protection should quickly be granted status and receive support for integration. Those not eligible to any form of protection should be assisted in their return.

"Responsibility-sharing with EU Member States receiving a disproportionate number of asylum claims is also needed to ensure a truly common and workable asylum system. UNHCR is encouraging the Presidencies to advance work on an effective solidarity mechanism, including through relocation arrangements, with family unity prioritized," the statement said.

"The pre-accession process provides opportunities to support countries in the Western Balkans in terms of further developing their asylum systems. UNHCR remains ready to continue to work with the EU institutions and Agencies in the further development of protection-sensitive border management, fair and efficient asylum procedures and first reception capacity, ensure a consistent regional approach to registration, strengthen access to fundamental rights and services, as well as expand integration opportunities," the UN refugee agency said.

"With 85 percent of the world’s refugees hosted in neighbouring and developing countries, revitalized financial support is also needed," UNHCR warned and proposed that the Presidencies "ensure increased and diversified funding, including for development cooperation funding, to further support host countries and help forcibly displaced people rebuild their lives."

"The next EU budget (Multi-annual Financial Framework 2021-2027) is a key opportunity for the EU to demonstrate global solidarity towards forcibly displaced people and their hosts," it added.

UNHCR concluded by saying it remains ready to support the Croatian and German Presidencies, the EU, and its Member States as they work to enhance solidarity with refugees and the countries hosting them in the EU and globally.

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

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Plenković: Croatia Will Never Put up Barbed Wire Towards Bosnia

ZAGREB, January 9, 2020 - Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Wednesday his government would never put up barbed wire on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina to stop illegal migrants because there were natural obstacles and that would be a bad political message to the neighbouring country.

He was speaking of migration at a meeting with foreign correspondents who arrived in Zagreb from Brussels on the occasion of Croatia's presidency of the European Union.

Some of our neighbouring EU member states have put up physical barricades and barbed wire. We haven't opted for that because we have natural barriers such as the Danube and the Sava rivers, mountains and forests, Plenković told a Dutch journalist when asked about the migrant policy Croatia would advocate during the presidency.

He said BiH was a neighbouring and friendly country with which Croatia shared many links and that barbed wire would not be a good political message for bilateral relations.

Addressing some 60 foreign journalists, Plenković said Croatians lived in many places on the other side of the border and that as prime minister he would never opt for building a barrier between Croatians.

He said it was necessary to stop illegal migration and reform the Dublin Regulation, adding that migration was the issue which, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, had changed the political mood in Europe the most.

A New York Times journalist asked if a country accused of beating and shooting at migrants, stealing from them and returning them from Zagreb to BiH could propose a reform of the migration policy.

Plenković said those were allegations, not facts, and that Croatia had opted for investing in police capabilities instead of barbed wire.

We are considering every humanitarian aspect. We have no proof of what you are saying, except two shooting incidents which occurred by accident inside Croatian territory. But that was accidental and it is not the official policy or the intention of the police, he said, adding that every complaint about the work of security forces was properly checked.

Responding to a question from a journalist of the UK's Telegraph, Plenković said Brexit was not a smart idea. Time has shown how complicated are the consequences of that decision by the then British Prime Minister David Cameron, he added.

A Wall Street Journal reporter asked if EU-US trade disputes would spill over onto the transatlantic alliance, to which Plenković replied that he believed there was common sense on both sides of the ocean, enough to avoid an escalation of those disputes.

He said the UK's exit from the EU was the right time for the Conference on the Future of Europe, with which Democracy and Demography Commissioner Dubravka Šuica of Croatia would be tasked.

A nuclear power and permanent member of the Security Council is leaving, and this is the moment for the EU to see what it must do to gain bigger support among its citizens, Plenković said.

As for countries which want to join the EU, he said that Croatia, as a country in this part of Europe, felt a responsibility for their European journey.

After talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, Plenković believes that France could change its opinion by the Zagreb summit on enlargement in May. Last October, France was the most vocal opponent to opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.

He said Enlargement Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi was working on a document which could amend the accession negotiations methodology, which could satisfy France.

European Council President Charles Michel and the entire European Commission with Ursula von der Leyen at the helm is coming to Zagreb on Thursday.

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

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Turkish Smuggler Crashes Migrant Van into Croatia Police Vehicle

Police officers from the Zagreb Police Department are conducting a criminal investigation involving a 34-year-old Turkish national, who attempted to smuggle 15 migrants, after he disobeyed police orders, hit a police vehicle with his van and attempted to flee.

The suspect has been detained on charges of committing the criminal offenses of "Illegal entry, movement and stay in the Republic of Croatia, another EU Member State or signatories to the Schengen Agreement", "Coercion against an official" and "Damage to someone else's property," according to Laura Vuckovic/Zagreb Info on December 28, 2019.

On Tuesday, December 24, 2019 at 12:45am, police officers stopped an Iveco Daily van with German license plates, which was driven by a 34-year-old Turkish national, at the Sveta Helena rest stop on the A4 Zagreb – Goričan motorway. Upon inspection, the officers discovered 15 asylum seekers in the cargo area of ​​the van.

Turkish National Loaded Van in Zagreb

A criminal investigation has confirmed that the suspect, a Turkish national, placed the 15 asylum seekers in the cargo area of ​​a van on December 24, at an undetermined location in Zagreb, with the intention of acquiring undue financial gain. While driving on the A4 Zagreb - Goričan motorway, he was spotted and stopped by police officers at a gas station, and the police officer identified himself to the driver with a badge and ID.

Although the police officer was standing next to the driver's door, the suspect disobeyed his order to turn off and exit the vehicle. Then, he attempted to flee by driving away and struck the front door of the police vehicle with his van. After about 15 meters, police officers prevented him from going any further and escaping.

After the initial criminal investigation was completed, the suspect was handed over to the detention supervisor, and a criminal complaint was filed with the State Attorney's Office on suspicion of committing the above-mentioned criminal offenses.

Almost 1000 Migrant Smugglers Arrested in Croatia

As of December 27, 2019; 976 migrant smugglers have been arrested in Croatia and charged with 904 crimes. As of the same date; 1,661 people have also applied for international protection in Croatia. In more than 70 percent of those cases, the procedure for granting international protection has been suspended because the applicants have arbitrarily left the official asylum seekers' shelter, which suggests a systematic abuse of the Procedure for International Protection.

In this scenario, asylum seekers, after being discovered while attempting cross the state border illegally into Croatia, most often within Lika-Senj Police District, express a false intention to seek international protection in Croatia after they have been detained. Then they use smuggling networks to continue their journey to their destination countries (Austria, Germany, Italy).

According to Zagreb Police, these scenarios are referred to as “secondary migrations” because they are comprised of exclusively economic migrants. These migrants do not appear to show any evidence of persecution in their country of origin, nor in the countries they are attempting to enter Croatia from (Bosnia, Serbia). 

TCN reported another crash earlier this year which involved a Serbian national driving a van filled with 33 migrants, who crashed into a roadblock while attempting to flee police.

Follow our Politics page for coverage on the migrant crisis in Croatia.

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