Thursday, 25 April 2019

Council of Europe Praises Croatia’s Attitude towards Migrants

ZAGREB, April 25, 2019 - Croatian authorities have been providing well for migrants but the existing accommodation capacity is insufficient for unaccompanied migrant children, reads a report by the Council of Europe released on Wednesday.

"Croatian authorities have succeeded in providing fairly good material reception conditions, both for adults and children... The authorities expressed the understanding that the existing institutions were not adequate for unaccompanied migrant and refugee children," reads the report by Tomas Boček, Special Representative of the Secretary General on migration and refugees.

Due to this, Croatian authorities plan to open two new reception centres in 2019 to accommodate unaccompanied children.

While substantial efforts have been made by all actors to provide shelter and basic services to the migrant population, the authorities should improve the coordination of assistance to migrants and refugees and implement standards for adequate and safe reception centres for women and children, notably unaccompanied children in Bosnia and Herzegovina, says Boček, whose report deals with the status of migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia and is based on data collected by the Council of Europe missions in the two countries from June 24 to 27 and November 26 to 30, 2018.

In 2018 Croatia made attempts to prevent illegal border crossings, with some nongovernmental organisations accusing Croatian police of excessive use of force. "It is important that all border management operations are carried out with a view to identifying people in need of international protection," reads the report.

Boček suggests that Croatia should introduce credible complaint mechanisms and investigations to address the allegations of ill-treatment at the border.

The Council of Europe also encourages Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to develop alternatives to existing migrant reception centres.

In 2018 Croatia registered more than 7,500 migrants, of whom 352 asylum-seekers stayed in the country, while Bosnia and Herzegovina registered 24,000 migrants, 20 times more than in the previous year. Currently, between 4,000 and 5,000 migrants are in Bosnia and Herzegovina and they wish to cross the border into Croatia, according to Boček's report.

The report also notes that the Council of Europe Development Bank and the EU have co-funded the construction of new reception centres in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

6500 Police Officers Protecting Croatian Borders against Illegal Migration

ZAGREB, April 24, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Wednesday that 6,500 Croatian police officers have been deployed along the border to prevent illegal migration, adding that the police know very well where and how to respond to safeguard Croatia against illegal migration.

"Our migration policy, including towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, is based on cooperation between states and police. It is ongoing on a daily basis and is producing key results, preventing illegal migration," Plenković said during Question Time in Parliament, responding to a question from Bruna Esih (Independents for Croatia) about a migrant centre which Bosnia and Herzegovina plans to open near the border with Croatia and what Croatia should do to reduce the migrant pressure on its border.

The PM said that an increasing number of migrants were arriving in Bosnia and Herzegovina using the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Balkan routes, and that Croatia was adhering to the Schengen membership criteria and absorbing large amounts of EU funding to increase its ability to control illegal migration.

He recalled that Croatia had used 120 million euro in EU funds to strengthen the EU's external border, and that a Frontex aircraft, which is based at Zadar, monitored the entire region of Southeast Europe for illegal migration.

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

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Over 100 Illegal Migrants Enter Slovenia from Croatia

ZAGREB, April 24, 2019 - In the last five days, 111 illegal migrants have been detained in Slovenia after illegally entering the country from Croatia, Slovenian police said on Tuesday.

Thirty migrants have been returned to Croatia as part of the readmission process, 12 have applied for asylum in Slovenia, while procedures for the rest have not been completed yet.

Most of the migrants were caught in areas covered by the police departments of Novo Mesto, Celje and Koper.

Among 67 foreign nationals who crossed the border illegally at Novo Mesto, 25 were from Morocco, 11 from Algeria and 11 from Bangladesh.

A 37-year-old man, resident in Great Britain, was arrested at Novo Mesto on Monday for driving four illegal migrants from Egypt in a car with Slovenian licence plates. The driver will be prosecuted, while the four migrants have been returned to Croatia.

In and around the coastal city of Koper, 37 illegal migrants have been detained, 24 of whom have been sent back to Croatia, while the rest have applied for international protection. They are nationals of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Kosovo, Bangladesh, India, Albania and Libya.

Police in Celje on Saturday detained three Kosovo nationals after discovering they had entered the border illegally from Croatia. They have been handed over to Croatian police.

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

Friday, 5 April 2019

Bosnian Police Step Up Control to Deter Illegal Migrants from Coming to Croatia

ZAGREB, April 5, 2019 - Una-Sana Canton police in Bosnia and Herzegovina are stepping up measures aimed at preventing the arrival of new illegal migrants to that part of the country, thus preventing them from crossing the border into Croatia and continuing their journey to other EU countries, a police source in Bihać confirmed on Friday.

Police spokesman Ale Siljdedić said that in the early hours of Friday, the police stopped a train at the entity border that was travelling from Sarajevo and found about one hundred migrants on board and prevented them from continuing their journey toward Bihać.

"We are following instructions from the cantonal task force responsible for controlling and managing the migrant crisis because reception centres in Bihać, Cazin and Velika Kladuša can no longer take in any more migrants so we are preventing migrants and refugees from entering the canton," Siljdedić was cited as saying by the Fena news agency.

According to Siljdedić, this has been going on a daily basis because for weeks at least 50 to 100 migrants a day who enter Bosnia and Herzegovina from Serbia and Montenegro, attempt to get to Una-Sana canton.

Migrants found by the police are returned to those places from where they headed out toward Bihać.

The police in the Republika Srpska entity are implementing similar measures. They are regularly inspecting trains coming from Sarajevo and travelling to Bihać and are preventing passengers who are identified as illegal migrants from disembarking in Banja Luka.

According to the latest information submitted by police agencies to the country's government, slightly more than 3,800 migrants have illegally entered Bosnia and Herzegovina since the beginning of the year.

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

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

NGOs Warn About Unlawful, Violent Push-Backs of Refugees

ZAGREB, April 3, 2019 - Refugee protection nongovernmental organisations on Wednesday published their fifth report on violent and illegal push-backs of refugees from Croatia and systematic human rights violations on the EU's borders, demanding that the Croatian Ministry of the Interior and the Police Directorate stop interpreting Croatian and EU laws in a selective and ill-intentioned way.

Collective, unlawful and violent police push-backs of refugees on Croatian borders have continued despite consistent warnings by numerous international and domestic organisations, representatives of the Centre for Peace Studies, Are You Syrious?, the Welcome Initiative and the Italian Consortium of Solidarity (ICS) told a news conference outside the Ministry of the Interior in Zagreb.

Tea Vidović of the Centre for Peace Studies and the Welcome Initiative said that collective refugee expulsions definitely happened and that no one questioned that any more.

"All testimonies indicate that systematic and organised collective push-backs of refugees from EU territory are happening," said Vidović.

Apart from such testimonies, the NGOs' report also includes a legal analysis as to how Croatian and EU laws should be interpreted and why actions by the Ministry of the Interior are unlawful.

Antonija Potočki of the Are You Syrious NGO said that they were speaking in the name of some 10,000 women, children and men who were expelled from Croatia in 2018 alone.

Many of them were given a "Croatian welcome", which, according to numerous testimonies, included brutal beatings with truncheons, punching and kicking, stripping refugees naked, taking their water and food supplies, threatening them with weapons, shooting, theft and destruction of refugees' personal items, and illegal and violent push-backs of families, minors, and sick and elderly people, Potočki said.

Matej Iscra of the ICS said that his organisation had collected the testimonies of several asylum-seekers on a number of cases of illegal expulsion by Italian police in the period from June to October 2018.

All the cases were characterised by strong arbitrariness on the part of Italian police and the fact that they were chain expulsions, with Italian police handing over migrants to Slovenian police, who handed them over to Croatian police, who returned them to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iscra said.

The migrants testified about verbal and physical abuse by Croatian police during the process of expulsion. Italian police said that public security officials in Trieste described those procedures as correct and as readmission, Iscra said.

The refugee protection NGOs published their first report on unlawful refugee expulsions in 2016.

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

Monday, 25 March 2019

Police Help Tunisian Illegal Migrant Mistakenly Believed to Be Pregnant

ZAGREB, March 25, 2019 - Police found in the Plješivica Mountain area on Sunday 15 persons from Libya and Tunisia who had illegally entered Croatia, including a Tunisian illegal migrant woman who they claimed was pregnant, and transferred them to Gospić – the woman to the hospital because of her poor condition and the rest to the police station.

In the evening, the hospital notified the police that the woman was not pregnant.

Speaking to Hina on Monday, hospital head Sandra Čubelić said the woman was born in 1985 and that she was brought in for emergency treatment because she was exhausted and mildly dehydrated. The woman was released after receiving intravenous therapy, she added.

Lika-Senj County police spokeswoman Maja Brozičević told Hina the 15 migrants had illegally entered Croatia from Bosnia and Herzegovina. "They will probably be deported, unless one of them says their life would be in danger upon returning to the country of origin and applies for asylum in Croatia."

Asked if the information that the woman was pregnant had been a misunderstanding or a deliberately false report, Brozičević said the border police in Korenica was notified around 1.30 p.m. on Sunday about several persons in the Plješivica Mountain area, including a heavily pregnant woman.

The police, she said, found "13 men, one child and one woman and the migrants were shouting and repeating that the woman was pregnant, and later we heard that she was wrapped in several blankets. Pregnant or not, we helped them all and are acting in line with national and European legislation."

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

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Women's NGOs Want Open Borders to Refugees

ZAGREB, March 20, 2019 - On the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, marked on March 21, several women’s NGOs, including the ROSA Centre of Women War Victims, the Belgrade-based Women in Black NGO, the Women's Network Croatia and the Rog Social Centre from Slovenia, have called on EU member states to open their borders and take in refugees/migrants who are fleeing war and seeking to save themselves and their families.

"We are asking Croatia to treat refugees/migrants humanly, to make their stay in the country easier, to grant international protection based on laws and not political stances, to apply regulations on special guarantees to the most vulnerable groups, to stop police pressure and torture of refugees/migrants and those who are helping them, to enable everyone who wishes free passage to pass freely and anyone wishing to stay, to do so," the NGOs said in a press release.

The women's groups recalled that they too were refugees and could again become that if the erosion of humanity and tolerance of violence against refugees/migrants continues.

The increased wave of refugees/migrants in Europe, which has been going on for four years, has shown that many countries and individuals have failed the test of humanity and solidarity.

"Wire fences, walls and hate speech and violence against refugees have become Europe's symbols. Growing hate, racism and far-right movements are the current state of affairs," the NGOs warned.

"We most sharply condemn the behaviour toward refugees/migrants at the borders across the EU, where they are exposed to terror, where their right to freedom is violated and they are not offered protection that all countries are obliged to provide according to international agreements and domestic laws.

"We expect EU countries to open their borders and accept refugees/migrants, who are running away from war and seeking salvation for themselves and their families and a peaceful and safe life worthy of man," the press release said.

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

Monday, 18 March 2019

Baptists Turn Former Police Station into Asylum-Seekers Centre

Accommodation of asylum-seekers in Croatia, courses in Croatian language and culture, workshops and mentoring for better understanding and adaptation to social life, educational, creative and sports activities for children and adults, support for school children, help in the process of validating certificates and diplomas, mentoring in employment, self-employment and starting startups in Croatia – all this is part of the programmes which will take place at the former police station at the Gajnice neighbourhood in Zagreb, which has been unused for the past twenty years, reports Večernji List on March 18, 2019.

The House of Hope, the future gathering place for foreigners who have been granted international protection in Croatia, has created quite a stir in the neighbourhood. As soon as they heard that asylum-seekers were coming, many of the locals started protesting, and the topic is often discussed in heated terms on social networks.

People say they most fear for their own safety. But many do not know the details or the background of this project, who is the organiser and what will exactly happen there. Calling it "the asylum-seekers centre" is not really correct, says Mihal Kreko, the pastor of the Baptist Church of Zagreb, which is leading the project.

The Ministry of the Interior, which has been managing the state-owned property for the past years, has granted them the right to use the facility for ten years without fee, provided they renovate the building. They then formulated a programme to help achieve, according to the contract, “a better and happier life in Croatia.”

“The house will be open to all marginalised and vulnerable groups, not necessarily just asylum-seekers. We will work with them to adapt them to our culture, but also the faith because many have switched to Christianity,” says Pastor Kreko, adding that they will organise the so-called meals on wheels programme, i.e. delivery of food to the elderly and the needy.

To those who are afraid of possible incidents in the neighbourhood, he replies that there is no stricter migration check system than the one in Croatia. “Before they get asylum in this country, everybody has to go through a two-to-three-year investigation process", says Kreko, adding that the house will accommodate the grand total of eight people.

The Ministry announced that the building was used as a police station until the end of 1998, and since then the Ministry has repeatedly asked the relevant state bodies to decide what they wanted to do with the facility. From 2008 and 2010, a tender for sale was published, but no offer was received. Now the house will be used, among other purposes, for the temporary accommodation of people with international protection.

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

Translated from Večernji List (reported by Petra Balija, Jelena Pišonić Babić).

Friday, 15 March 2019

NGOs Accuse Croatian Police of Torture and Humiliation of Refugees

ZAGREB, March 15, 2019 - Croatian non-governmental organisations the Centre for Peace Studies (CMS) and Are You Syrious (AYS) issued a joint statement on Thursday drawing attention to three dangerous aspects of Croatian police behaviour: dehumanisation, torture and humiliation of refugees, rhetorical legalisation of violence, and discrediting organisations that warn of such actions.

The statement was prompted by Interior Minister Davor Božinović's response to the international human right watchdog Amnesty International's report on violence and abuse experienced by refugees and migrants along the Balkan route.

Božinović said in his response that Croatia was successfully controlling and protecting its border in line with international and national law and that his ministry's priority was to ensure legal and sustainable migration in cooperation with neighbouring countries for the purpose of maintaining security.

The CMS and AYS accused Božinović of selectively interpreting legal provisions in an attempt to give the impression that police actions are legal when in fact they violate basic human rights.

"The Ministry of the Interior is actively trying to silence citizens who question the legality of some of the police actions, portraying the CMS and AYS as organisations associated with illegal migration," the two NGOs said in their statement.

"After footage from Border Violence Monitoring clearly showed Croatian police driving refugees away from Croatia, pushing around exhausted individuals, or footage of Croatian police forcing refugees on their knees to chant 'Dinamo Zagreb!' and 'For the homeland ready!', and after numerous medical documents about fractures and serious injuries suffered by refugees during their encounters with police truncheons on the border, it is unacceptable and utterly disgusting to claim that Croatian police do not use force and power against them," the statement said.

Commenting on Božinović's statement that all of the 202 complaints of violations of refugees' human rights received by the ministry were unfounded, the two NGOs said that they themselves had made some of those complaints, categorically stating that their complaints contained precise information on the times and places where Croatian police found refugees and expelled them by force back to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The CMS and AYS noted that Croatia had so far been criticised by four international organisations over violent expulsions of refugees and migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina, namely by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Human Rights Watch, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, and most recently by Amnesty International. They also recalled criticisms made at a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg late last year.

The international organisations reported thousands of documented cases of illegal expulsions of refugees and migrants from Croatia since 2016. The UNHCR said that last year at least 5,537 persons were forcibly returned to Serbia, while according to some indicators the number of illegal expulsions to Bosnia and Herzegovina could be twice as high, the CMS and AYS said.

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

Friday, 15 March 2019

Illegal Border Crossings on Western Balkans Route up 40% This Year

ZAGREB, March 15, 2019 - In February 2019, the number of detections of illegal border crossings on Europe’s four main migratory routes fell 58% from the previous month, while detections of illegal border crossings on the Western Balkans route in the first two months of this year were 40% more than a year ago.

In February, there were 3,560 illegal border crossing detections on the four main migratory routes, down 58% on the month, in large part due to poor weather conditions in parts of the Mediterranean Sea, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) said on Thursday.

The total for the first two months of the year was roughly in line with a year ago at 11,800.

The Eastern Mediterranean route accounted for the largest percentage of detections of irregular migrants in February, down 31% from the previous month to 2,250. Because of a high number of arrivals in January, the total number of detections on this route rose by one-third in the first two months of 2019 compared to a year ago to almost 5,500.

Two out of every five detected migrants in this corridor were nationals of Afghanistan, usually arriving by sea, while one out of every five was of Turkish nationality, mainly crossing the land border, said Frontex.

Rough weather conditions led to an 80% drop in the number of irregular migrants on the Western Mediterranean route. However, due to a high number of arrivals in January, mainly reaching Spain, the total for the first two months of 2019 stood at more than 4,900, or 83% above the figure from the same period of last year.

Nationals of Morocco accounted for the largest number of detected migrants on this route, said Frontex.

The Central Mediterranean continued to experience falling numbers of irregular migrants. There were 60 migrants detected on this route in February, 70% less than in January. This was the lowest monthly number in nine years. Bangladeshis and Tunisians were the most represented nationalities reaching Italy.

There were more than 420 detections of illegal border crossings recorded on the Western Balkans route in February. The total for the first two months reached nearly 1,200 or 40% more than a year ago. Nationals of Afghanistan accounted for the largest share of migrants detected on this route.

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

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