Monday, 18 November 2019

Police Continues Investigation of Migrant Shooting

ZAGREB, November 18, 2019 - An on-site investigation on Tuhobić mountain, where a police officer shot a migrant who is in a critical condition, has been completed and "items of interest for further investigation have been recovered," Primorje-Gorski Kotar County Police said on Monday.

They added in a press release that they could not say more for the time being given the confidentiality of the investigation and a pending report by experts of the Police Directorate.

In coordination with the county prosecutor's office, the police are continuing the investigation to establish all the relevant facts concerning the shooting of the illegal migrant and the light injuries sustained by a police officer, the press release said.

The police recalled that a group of 17 foreign citizens, including the shot migrant, illegally entered Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since none have said they intend to apply for international protection, the process of their readmission to BiH has been started.

The Rijeka University Hospital said the gravely wounded migrant was on a respirator and that his condition remained critical.

He sustained serious gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen during a police operation on Saturday in inaccessible terrain on Tuhobić mountain in the Gorski Kotar region.

Citing unofficial sources, the media have reported that the wounded migrant was carried to a car several kilometres away by the officer who should shot him and another officer. The officer allegedly wanted to shoot in the air so that other officers could come to his assistance however he tripped and fell, shooting the migrant.

The Centre for Peace Studies (CMS) said on Monday it was unacceptable that police shot a migrant in the Gorski Kotar mountainous region, while the police union said the migrant was wounded when a gun accidentally went off and that his life was saved because the officer in question acted in line with the highest principles.

According to media reports, the man underwent urgent surgery due to a gunshot wound in the chest and abdomen area and Rijeka University Hospital doctors are fighting for his life. The use of firearms against refugees and migrants is becoming the rule, and the Interior Ministry and Minister Davor Božinović are doing their best to justify such conduct instead of preventing it, the CMS said in a press release.

The unofficial police information, although the investigation's findings have not been disclosed, is unconvincing and even more worrying are Božinović's statements justifying the use of firearms by police towards migrants, this nongovernmental organisation said, adding that this was not the first time that shots were fired at groups of migrants and refugees.

The SPH police union applauded the activity of all police officers protecting the state border in a difficult time when, it said, the number of people trying to illegally enter Croatia is on the rise.

Conscientious and professional police activity is necessary to maintain the state's integrity and citizens' security as well as to meet all the commitments Croatia undertook by joining the EU and other international agreements and associations, SPH president Dubravko Jagić said in a press release.

As for the shooting of the migrant in Gorski Kotar, he said all public and official information so far indicated that he was shot when the gun of one of the police officers who came across a group of illegal migrants accidentally went off.

Unfortunately, the wounds were grave and the person is still in serious condition, but his life was saved only because the officer whose gun accidentally went off acted in line with all the highest principles of the police profession and humanity, carrying the migrant, together with a colleague, over three kilometres of inaccessible terrain to a place which an ambulance could reach, Jagić said.

The dedicated work of the police to save the life of a migrant is a deeply humane act, the union concluded.

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

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Migrant Gravely Injured in Police Operation

ZAGREB, November 17, 2019 - Interior Minister Davor Božinović said on Saturday night that the migrant who was injured in the afternoon as police were preventing illegal migration in the Gorski Kotar area sustained a serious injury and that he was undergoing surgery in a Rijeka hospital.

Around 5 p.m., the police were protecting the state border, i.e. preventing a group of illegal migrants from crossing Croatia near Tuhobić, who were most likely trying to reach Slovenia, and one migrant was injured in the process, Božinović told reporters.

According to available information, the injury was probably caused by a firearm. The minister said the county prosecutor's office would investigate and that a Police Directorate team would also inspect the matter.

He talked with the doctors treating the injured migrant and said the injury was serious and that he was being operated on.

Asked if the migrants were armed, Božinović said he could not say at the moment due to the investigation to be carried out on Monday.

The other migrants, about 15 of them, are in a police station, he said.

The migrant wounded during a police operation in the Gorski Kotar region on Saturday has undergone surgery but his condition is critical, so he is still in intensive care, the Rijeka University Hospital said on Sunday.

The patient underwent surgery for a gunshot wound in the torso and abdominal area, the hospital said.

A foreign citizen suspected of staying in Croatia illegally was injured on Saturday afternoon on inaccessible terrain in the Gorski Kotar mountainous region during an operation by police who work on the prevention of illegal migration, the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County Police said last night.

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

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Bosnia: We Are Not Encouraging Migrants to Go to Croatia

ZAGREB, November 16, 2019 - The minister of the interior of Una-Sana canton, Nermin Kljajić, has rejected accusations that the local authorities in this region of north-western Bosnia and Herzegovina are encouraging illegal migrants to go to Croatia, saying that the two countries are facing the same problem, the news website said on Saturday.

The Zagreb-based newspaper Večernji List said on Saturday that Croatian security services were considering a possibility of denying entry to those Bosnian officials who encourage illegal migrants to continue their journey towards Croatia as soon as possible, and that Kljajić was under special scrutiny because of his previous statements.

Kljajić said that no one in Una-Sana canton was working on planned transfers of migrants to Croatia and that migrants who had managed to cross the border into Croatia in an effort to get to western Europe were individual cases.

"In the last two years about 60,000 migrants have passed through the camps in Una-Sana canton, which means that about 54,000 of them have ended up in EU countries. Those people came to Bosnia and Herzegovina with the intention of reaching EU countries. Croatia is justifiably dissatisfied, as are we ... because our state institutions are not managing the migration process properly and we are dealing with the consequences together," Kljajić said.

He said that Croatia needn't worry about the steps being taken by the cantonal authorities.

Earlier this week, a dedicated cantonal task force on illegal migration decided to restrict the movement of illegal migrants staying in Bihać and Veliša Kladusa as of November 15. Under the decision, migrants accommodated in the Bira and Miral reception centres will not be allowed to leave and return as they please and only those wishing to continue their journey towards Croatia will be allowed to leave.

There has been no confirmation that such measures are indeed being implemented.

Meanwhile, global human rights watchdog Amnesty International has warned that any restriction of migrants' movement and putting them in some sort of detention would be a drastic violation of their human rights.

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

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Croatia Says HRW Report on Migrants Doesn't Contain Any Concrete Evidence

ZAGREB, November 9, 2019 - Croatia's Interior Ministry on Friday said in a press release that a report released by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) organisation consisted of very general claims about the alleged inhumane treatment of migrants by the local police and that it does not contain any concrete evidence.

"It is important to take into consideration that migrants, who are prevented from entering Croatia by police officers or other procedures have been undertaken for their readmission to the country from which they entered illegally, often falsely accuse police officers of violence, in the hope that these accusations will help them in a new attempt to enter Croatia and continue on their way toward their final destination," the Interior Ministry said.

The ministry underscored that advocates of illegal border crossing and illegal entry in the EU have for some time been reporting alleged unlawful conduct by Croatia's police, accusing the police in general of implementing pushbacks on the external EU border.

"In reality just the opposite is occurring in fact. Bosnia and Herzegovina has admitted several times that it cannot protect its border with Serbia and Montenegro due to a capacity shortage. In that situation of a virtually uncontrolled influx of migrants, Bosnia and Herzegovina's authorities are directing migrants to the Una-Sana Canton. Bosnia and Herzegovina has organised transport to that area and it is worth mentioning the coinciding fact that the railway line between Sarajevo and Bihać has been reopened after 27 years, at a time just when migrants are being directed toward the border with Croatia.

Despite efforts by the international community and Croatia, as a member of the EU which has provided funding for humane accommodation of migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina, those irregular migrants are being accommodated in the Vučjak camp which is located about six kilometres from Croatia's border, the Croatian ministry says adding that those irregular migrants are banned from entering Bihać and are instructed how to illegally cross a state border.

According to Bosnia and Herzegovina's law that route toward Croatia is an illegal crossing and liable to criminal proceedings, the Croatian ministry said.

The press release further notes that HRW did not present any facts in its report.

"There is rare or hardly any information of the smooth flow of migrants entering Bosnia and Herzegovina from Serbia or Montenegro which is indeed unusual considering that it is in fact the cause of the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and that the situation in Vučjak or Bihać is just a consequence of that and something that Croatia's police can absolutely not be responsible for," MUP said.

It adds that migrants illegally crossing the state border are treated according the Law on Aliens.

MUP said that all accusations by non-governmental organisations and other civil society organisations of alleged violence toward migrants are being checked, however, these reports generally do not have sufficient information required to launch a criminal investigation.

The ministry checks all allegations of unprofessional conduct by the police in detail, which often do not have sufficient information to verify the allegations and if there is any suspicion of a crime being committed that is reported to the State Prosecutor's Office to initiate the relevant procedure in its remit.

The ministry recalls that there have been several cases when Croatia's police have saved migrants from peril at the state border.

"Today even, thanks to the timely reaction by Croatian police a family of five with a woman in an advanced stage of pregnancy with three children has been taken care of in the Korenica area. The pregnant woman was taken to Gospić hospital while her husband and three children were taken to the local police station where they said that they would apply for international protection in Croatia," the press release said.

The European Commission took account of the HRW report when evaluating Croatia's preparedness to join the Schengen area and concluded that Croatia continued to fulfil its commitments towards human rights protection, European Commission spokeswoman Tove Ernst said on Friday.

She recalled that the Commission had made its recommendation in a report three weeks ago, in which it concluded that Croatia continued to fulfil its commitments relating to the protection of human rights. Now it is up to the Council of the EU to decide on Croatia's accession to the Schengen area, she added.

The non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch said in a report on Friday that the Commission's conclusions from October about the technical readiness of Croatia to join the Schengen area did not hold in the face of evidence of violent pushbacks of migrants from the Croatian border. As proof of its claim, HRW released a video on its website documenting the abuses.

The European Commission said it was in close contact with Croatian authorities and would continue following the situation together with them.

The Commission always takes allegations of mistreatment of migrants very seriously, Ernst said

As for Croatia, the protection of the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers, accusations that they are denied access to the asylum-seeking process and accusations that police use force, that remains a challenge. We are in close contact with Croatian authorities regarding this issue. They have committed to looking into these accusations and we will continue following the situation together with Croatian authorities, she added.

The spokeswoman said that a monitoring mechanism had been put in place at the Commission's request to ensure full compliance with EU law by border authorities.

We supported the efforts by the Croatian authorities to ensure respect for fundamental rights, primarily on the borders, and a portion of the 7 million euro emergency aid package that has been granted to Croatia is intended for strengthening border management and for monitoring. As we specified a few weeks ago, Croatia continues to meet its commitments in this area. We have acted by setting up the monitoring mechanism, for which we have granted funding, and we remain in close contact with the Croatian authorities, Ernst said.

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

Friday, 8 November 2019

HRW: Border Pushbacks Disqualify Croatia for Schengen

ZAGREB, November 8, 2019 - The European Commission’s October conclusion that Croatia is ready to join the Schengen Area "wilfully brushes over evidence of violent pushbacks of migrants at its borders," Human Rights Watch said on Friday.

As proof of that claim, HRW released a video documenting the abuses.

"The European Commission’s action sends the message that serious human rights abuses are no obstacle to Schengen accession. The European Commission should investigate the situation instead of rewarding Croatia," HRW said in a press release.

"Croatia's unlawful and violent summary returns of asylum seekers and migrants should disqualify it from joining the Schengen Area," said Lydia Gall, senior Eastern Europe and Balkans researcher at HRW. “Ignoring Croatia’s abuses of migrants at its borders makes the notion that Schengen membership is contingent on respect for human rights just meaningless talk."

The HRW video features interviews with people shortly after they were summarily returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina by Croatian police in August. It includes interviews with other pushback victims and witnesses of pushbacks, including the mayor of Bihać, a BiH town across the border from Croatia. It also shows credible secretly recorded footage of Croatian police officers escorting groups of migrants across the border to BiH without following due process.

The summary return of asylum seekers without consideration of their protection needs is contrary to European Union asylum law, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the 1951 Refugee Convention, HRW said.

According to the press release, HRW has documented summary collective expulsions from Croatia to Serbia and BiH since 2016.

"In some instances, Croatian border officials have used force, pummelling people with fists, kicking them, and making them run gauntlets between lines of police officers. Violence has been directed against women and children. Unlike with lawful deportations, migrants are not returned at ports of entry, but rather in remote border areas, including, at times, forced to cross freezing streams."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, and other nongovernmental organisations have echoed HRW concerns. Although President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in July acknowledged that authorities engage in pushbacks, Croatian authorities have repeatedly denied the allegations, including to HRW, and in some cases have accused aid groups and victims of fabricating facts to make Croatian police look bad, the press release said.

Croatian authorities have not taken credible steps to halt the practice and to hold those responsible to account, HRW said.

"In a meeting with Human Rights Watch in May, the Interior Ministry state secretary, Terezija Gras, said the Croatian police would investigate any complaints filed by migrants about police mistreatment but could not say how many complaints the authorities had received. Nor could she explain how a migrant pushed back from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina would be able to a file a complaint with the authorities in Croatia."

To join the Schengen area without border and passport controls, member states have to fulfil certain criteria, including respect for the right to seek asylum, HRW said.

"The EU Schengen Borders Code Article 4 says that member states should act in compliance with EU law and 'obligations related to access to international protection, in particular the principle of non-refoulement (banning the return to a country where they would face torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or other irreparable harm)'. ... Pushbacks effectively preventing people from accessing the Croatian asylum procedure violate Article 4."

Before using the European Commission’s report to approve Croatia’s full access to Schengen, the European Council should call for a reassessment of Croatia’s compliance with the EU Schengen Borders Code, HRW said.

The Council should also put in place a monitoring mechanism for Croatia as well as initiate legal enforcement action against Croatia for violating EU laws, HRW added.

"Letting Croatia join Schengen when migrants and asylum seekers continue to be brutally pushed back would be an EU green light for abuses," Gall said. "The European Commission should not just accept Croatia’s empty promises, but ensure that Schengen criteria are truly met, which is clearly not happening now."

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

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Ministry Says Police Capable of Protecting External EU Border

ZAGREB, November 6, 2019 - The Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that under the law protecting and controlling the state border and preventing illegal migration were the primary task of the police and that for now there were no security or humanitarian reasons which would prompt the ministry to engage the army for that.

"Monitoring migration trends and analysing the risks connected to unlawful migration, the ministry has organised and equipped one of the largest and best equipped border police forces in Europe. The Croatian border police number 6,500 officers, specially trained to control and protect the state border and handle vulnerable groups and international protection seekers," a press release said.

The Croatian police also include riot and special forces who, depending on the terrain, participate in executing those tasks in the most inaccessible terrain, and €270 million has been invested in their equipment, the press release said.

Presidential candidate Miroslav Škoro said the first job of the police was to protect Croatian territory and citizens but that it would be good, before it was too late, to involve other services as well, primarily the army, both inland and on the border.

The ministry said that under the law the army could provide support in the protection of the state frontier in exceptional situations by following police instructions.

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

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Škoro: Army Should Be Included in Protecting Border

ZAGREB, November 5, 2019 - Presidential candidate Miroslav Škoro said on Tuesday that the primary task of the Croatian police was to protect the territory and citizens of Croatia, but that it would be good if the military also joined in because the border police were stretched to their limit.

"We want to be part of the Schengen area and we have our own law on the movement of foreigners. We need to know who comes into the country, who moves around and passes through, and of course, protect the territorial integrity of Croatia and all its citizens. We have enough competent people who know how to treat migrants and which of them should be accorded protection," Škoro told a press conference in Dubrovnik.

He said that the problem of illegal migration should be tackled at its source rather than put up fences along the border. He also said that this problem should not be dealt with by using force but by improving border control.

"We need to control the border, and ours is one of the longest in the European Union, but the police obviously have neither enough personnel nor resources for that job. That's why it is logical for other services to join in to help ensure better border control," Škoro said.

He said that there was not much talk of illegal migration in Croatia and that he himself had become convinced of the importance of this issue while on the campaign trail. He said that on his way to the south of the country he had been stopped by the police once and had been even searched once for illegal migrants. He said that in conversations with people living in border areas he had seen for himself that they lived in fear, fearing for their property and for their children.

Asked if Croatia was becoming a border state, Škoro said that Croatia had been a border state through history, adding that it should negotiate with Schengen countries. "This right, obligation and responsibility should be equally felt in Brussels, Madrid and Velika Kopanica," he said.

Škoro said that since 2000, the office of President had been held by persons who did not have great ambitions to participate in political life, as result of which this office was reduced to a sinecure.

"I don't want to be a figurehead and I don't need a sinecure. I want to listen to the people and participate in their initiatives. Currently all that is ignored and the people are good only when they vote, while this small clique is preoccupied with their CVs and continuing their careers in the EU. I would like for the President to have greater powers and to truly participate in the creation of better living and working conditions in this country. It is not enough if someone gets five million votes in elections and is reduced to the role of a notary-public who signs a piece of paper from time to time. That will change with this election," Škoro said.

More news about presidential elections can be found in the Politics section.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Conference on Migrations and Xenophobia in EU Held in Split

ZAGREB, October 26, 2019 - An international conference on globalisation of migrations and xenophobia in the European Union took place in Split on Saturday and on that occasion "Demos Migrant Portal", a database on migrations and demography in three languages – Croatian, German and English – was presented.

The conference, which brought together researchers from Croatia and abroad, was organised by the Zagreb-based Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Split.

Researcher Anđelko Milardović of the Zagreb institute said that in the event that European Union criticised too much the policy of the Turkish government, one could expect a scenario of changes in migratory routes.

He warned about possible "social chaos" in the Mediterranean and the Balkans in that scenario.

Milardović spoke about anti-migration political parties "as the children of the 21st century". "This is a totally new type of political parties as reaction to the globalisation of migrations," said the Croatian researcher.

Branka Likić Brborić of the Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO) in Sweden, said that all in Europe needed migrations, underlining that the developed European countries need migrants as workforce.

She sees an anti-migrant climate as a smoke screen and said that it could lead to deepening inequalities inside and between countries in Europe and in the world.

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

Saturday, 26 October 2019

EU External Border Should Be Protected at Farthest Location, Says Plenković

ZAGREB, October 26, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Friday the EU's external border should be protected at the farthest location, and pushed for reaching an agreement with Turkey on illegal migration.

"We believe the EU's external border should be protected at the farthest location on the migration route we call eastern Mediterranean or western Balkan. That envisages protecting the Greek... and the Bulgarian border. Those borders are the initial entry point for illegal migrants," Plenković told reporters, adding that smugglers then brought them all the way to north-western Bosnia and Herzegovina, close to the Croatian border.

He was speaking during a helicopter flight over the Croatian-Bosnian border near Željava Airport, responding to the question of whether the government was trying to resolve the problem of illegal migration at EU level in negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Croatia's role is to help find a comprehensive solution, to continue to work on an agreement and a declaration with Turkey, which will stabilise the situation as it has done over the past three years, Plenković said, recalling that the EU gave Turkey 6 billion euro to stop illegal migration.

There are over five million migrants and refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and these countries are one of the key "components of a comprehensive solution," he said, adding that talks with BiH were conducted on a daily basis at the political and police levels.

Asked about Turkey's threats that it would send a million refugees to this region, Plenković said talks must be held with Turkey because, due to its geographical position and the fact that so many refugees and migrants are on its territory, it could impact the pace of illegal migration.

He said there was no alternative to an agreement with Turkey. "It's in the security interest of the whole EU, and notably Croatia which is one of the countries on that route."

Asked if the pressure on the Croatian border would grow, Plenković said he would discuss that in Greece on Tuesday with PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

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

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Bavaria Grateful to Croatia for Protecting EU Border

ZAGREB, October 24, 2019 - Bavaria's Minister of the Interior Joachim Herrman on Thursday thanked the Croatian police for protecting the European border but expressed concern over the growing number of illegal migrants along the Western Balkan route saying that the situation in the autumn of 2015 must not be repeated in Bavaria or Germany.

"I thank our Croatian colleagues for protecting the European border (...) and congratulate Croatia on the European Commission's green light regarding the fulfilment of technical conditions to access the Schengen Area," Herrman said after a meeting with the Croatian Minister of the Interior, Davor Božinović.

The two ministers agreed that cooperation between Bavarian and Croatian police is essential and Herrman added that Bavaria considers that Croatia is positively controlling the border.

He expressed concern about the growing number of illegal migrants passing through Greece, Albania, North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the very serious situation in those countries.

"This increased number is very concerning. We have clear instructions that the situation of the autumn of 2015 must not be repeated in Bavaria or Germany," Herrman underscored.

Božinović said that the Croatian police were successfully withstanding all the challenges to protect Croatia's border and the external border of the European Union.

"I presented an overview of the situation on the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkan route that there is increased pressure on the EU border and that with the help of European institutions the Croatian police are successfully withstanding all those challenges," Božinović underlined.

"Confirmation of our very efficient work to protect the Croatian border and external Union border is the decision that the European Commission made two days ago regarding the fulfilment of the technical conditions to join the Schengen Area," he added.

The European Commission said on Tuesday that Croatia had met the conditions for joining the Schengen Area and asked the Council of the EU to include Croatia in the area without internal border controls.

The EC added that Croatia would need to continue working on the implementation of all ongoing actions, in particular its management of the external borders, to ensure that these conditions were met.

European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos told a press conference in Zagreb on Wednesday that with Croatia as a member of the Schengen Area, the EU could face migration and security challenges better.

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

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