Monday, 11 October 2021

Božinović Says Waiting for Results of Investigation Into Violence Against Migrants

ZAGREB, 11 Oct 2021 - Interior Minister Davor Božinović on Monday said that he did not have any new information related to videos of police violence against migrants and that it is necessary to wait for the results of the investigation.

"We'll wait and see what the results of the investigation show. Everything that will happen as part of the relevant procedures will be in line with what the police chief said on Friday," Božinović told reporters.

Protecting the borders in line with the law

Asked about responsibility in the chain of command, Božinović underscored that the orders are to protect the state borders in line with the law.

"There cannot be any order that is not in line with the law. As soon as I receive the report from the police directorate, I will forward it to the prime minister, even though we have already discussed all this," said Božinović.

He said that police officers, particularly those assigned to border control, doing one of the most difficult jobs.

He added that there were cases when the police themselves identified cases of police officers overstepping their powers or unlawful conduct.

He said that disciplinary procedures had been underway from before against eight police officers and that 22 cases had been documented and submitted to the State Attorney's Office (DORH).

"When someone individually breaches or oversteps their authority anywhere, there are services in the police directorate and internal controls to conduct investigations and decide on the penalties," he said.

Commenting on an anonymous letter by a police officer who claimed two years ago that an order existed for violent pushbacks, Božinović reiterated that anything that was reported was always investigated. DORH rejected 13 of the 22 cases for lack of evidence, he said.

The anonymous police officer's letter refers to a specific case, with a specific location and date, which previously was not the case, said Božinović and added that a prompt reaction followed the anonymous letter and that the matter was still being investigated.

Božinović also commented on a recent drug incident in the Croatian Army, underscoring that police offices were exceptionally active regarding the fight against drug smuggling.

"The cocaine market is expanding into the general population, which is concerning. We will meet with the anti-drug commission in the next few days. In 2020, 60 kilograms of cocaine were confiscated whereas in the first eight months of this year more than 667 kilograms were seized," he said.

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Saturday, 9 October 2021

Abuse of Migrants at the Border, Chief of Police Nikola Milina Speaks

October 9, 2021 - On Friday, the Chief of Police Nikola Milina held a press conference at the Police Directorate, where he spoke about the published recordings of the treatment and abuse of migrants and the findings of the Expert Team so far.

"According to the first information after the publication of the recording, we immediately formed an expert team, and colleagues from the Police Directorate were sent to the field in order to shed light on what it is about. Immediately during the first actions, we came to know that the persons were police officers of the intervention police. "Since at this moment there is a basic suspicion of a serious violation of official duty, which is very damaging to the reputation of the police, the procedure of handing over the decision to the officers on the removal of duty is underway and further disciplinary proceedings are underway," Milina said.

As reported by Net.hr, the chief of the police said that they were in cooperation with the DORH, with which they would conduct further investigations. He also pointed out that they want to shed light on the event to the end. “Our interest is certainly to shed light on this event to the end, in no way do we want the individual event to affect the praise the police receive for their daily dedicated work,” he said.

Footage of masked police beating migrants at the border. (Telegram.hr)

''Corridor is not some secret operation''

He then denied certain information that emerged from the publication of the video.

"We have to deny that the Corridor is a secret operation aimed at intimidating or promotes abuse of migrants. It is a long-term action to prevent human trafficking, we have arrested 4,000 smugglers in the last two years. Members of the Croatian police have rescued migrants from streams, rivers, indoors where they have been placed by smuggling groups in often dangerous situations. In these few years, the Croatian police have been at the forefront of preventing the smuggling of migrants. 

Another misinformation is that there are police cover-ups, and that police officers in turn carry out some illegal orders. ''It doesn't stand out at all. I constantly send instructions to behave cautiously, especially towards vulnerable groups, such as women, children, but also in other situations", he said.

He said state prosecutors have initiated a total of 22 proceedings since 2018 regarding police treatment of migrants; in 13 cases the proceedings were suspended, the rest are ongoing.

"For those who break the law, the Croatian system is the most rigorous in treating its members and they must be aware that they will be held accountable. Also, regarding situations concerning alleged police officers who say they have been ordered to work illegally. There is a very clear situation, a police officer is obliged to report illegal actions ex officio. We also conducted 8 disciplinary proceedings against officials who violated the rules of treatment and abuse of migrants. I can say that in at least 13 cases the proceedings were suspended, and we always check everything we have to and wherever there are grounds for suspecting that there are disciplinary errors'', said Milina.

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Chief of Police, Nikola Milina, at a press conference on Friday. (Photo: Goran Stanzl/PIXSELL)

Milina confirmed that there were three intervention police officers in this case and many have been identified so far. "Surveys will continue to be conducted in cooperation with the competent state attorney's office. These are facts that I can communicate. I am responsible for the first day of work in the police," said Milina, emphasizing that there are no special orders for abuse of migrants.

"It is especially warned that no use of force is allowed, especially against vulnerable groups, women, and children. It is about acting during working hours. This is certainly not a procedure that is appropriate and dignified, regardless of whether it is done at the border or any kind of treatment", he said.

The director general of police also said that "it will be seen for what reason (police officers) did not wear the prescribed uniform". "This is not about any treatment outside working hours. As far as uniforms are concerned, police officers are obliged to wear the prescribed uniforms, and it will be determined why they had certain parts differently and did not wear the prescribed uniform. This is about treatment, suppression of illegal migration, but this is certainly not a procedure that is appropriate and dignified. It is an intervention unit of the police that was on the rescue, it seems to me from the Istrian Police", he said.

Milina did not want to specify what the officers removed from duty are charged with, saying only that it was a serious violation of official duty and damage to the reputation of the Croatian police due to what was on the recording. "We will strengthen the control mechanisms. They have written instructions, they will also receive oral instructions. The focus is not only on the intervention police but on all branches of the police, we will strengthen education," he said.

He also said that, according to available data, there have been no disciplinary proceedings against police officers removed from duty so far.

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Friday, 8 October 2021

Božinović Says Police Officers Were Involved in Violence Against Migrants

ZAGREB, 8 Oct 2021 - Interior Minister Davor Božinović said on Friday that police officers were involved in violence against migrants on the Bosnian border, which was reported by Croatian and European media earlier this week.

"The police director, as soon as he saw the footage, sent an expert team which worked very intensively and as far as I know at the moment, they established that those were police officers," he told Croatian reporters in Luxembourg, where he is attending a meeting of EU interior ministers.

Božinović said he assumed it was "some individual offence by several police officers," adding that the police director was expected to provide more details today.

On Wednesday evening, a number of European media outlets showed disturbing footage of a migrant pushback on Croatian territory. The footage shows men, wearing balaclavas and clothes similar to those of Croatian police, pushing migrants across a backwater of the Korana river towards Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In doing so, the men were hitting the migrants with batons such as those used by Croatian riot police and some wore vests like those worn by that unit.

According to the media, the footage was taken in June as part of an investigation by a number of European media outlets.

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Thursday, 7 October 2021

PM Expects Report From All Relevant Services On Violent Pushbacks of Migrants

ZAGREB, 7 Oct 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Thursday he had talked with Interior Minister Davor Božinović about violent pushbacks of migrants from the Croatian border with Bosnia and Herzegovina and expected a report from all relevant services to see what had actually happened. 

"Last night I immediately called Minister Božinović to ensure that the Ministry and police take all the necessary measures and investigate the matter so that we see what happened and take appropriate decisions, because Croatia, as a country governed by the rule of law, respects its own laws and international rules. We do not want any actions that might be connected with the state and that are not in accordance with our legal system," Plenković said at a cabinet meeting.

"We have a duty to protect our border and prevent illegal migration. We appreciate the role of the Croatian police in protecting the border in the last few years after our continent has become a destination for migrations, which are often illegal and led and organized by smugglers who benefit from the misfortunes of many people who for various reasons left their homes," he added.

Likewise, We Can! party on Thursday described the treatment of migrants as shown by footage of violence on the border as unacceptable, calling on the police management to leave border protection to somebody else if they were not up to the task.

Footage of masked police beating migrants at the border. (Telegram.hr)

The latest footage of violence against refugees and migrants on our borders reveals serious problems in the way the Ministry of the Interior is dealing with the challenges of migration, the opposition party said in a Facebook post, thus joining in numerous reactions to videos showing the brutal beating of migrants on the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"If the current police leadership is not up to the task, it is time other people assumed the responsibility of protecting the border. The current approach to migrations is unacceptable and we once again support all police employees who do not agree with it and who have been warning about it for some time," the party said, recalling that it had warned on a number of occasions that the border can be protected without the use of violence and violation of human rights.

"The latest footage proves that we either have organized groups of thugs who beat refugees or police who remove their insignia and use force and beatings to drive people out of Croatia. Either means a defeat of the idea of a law-based state and human rights protection."

Božinović either denying the problem or announcing probes without an epilogue

The party went on to say that the Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović was "either denying the problem or announcing investigations without an epilogue."

It called on the minister and the prime minister to clearly say what was going on, who was responsible, and why they had not prevented the criminal activity on the border.

Minister Božinović said earlier today that an investigation had been launched to establish if the footage broadcast was authentic, noting that there was no tolerance to violence in the police.

Asked by reporters if he, too, was responsible if it turned out that the footage was authentic, Božinović said, "Why should I be personally responsible?"

He added that nobody had been given an order to use force, except in cases defined by the law, and that most situations on the border did not warrant such conduct.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Police Form Task Force Over Videos of Violence Against Migrants

ZAGREB, 7 Oct 2021 - The head of the border administration, Zoran Ničeno, said on Wednesday that the Police Directorate had formed a task force that would go into the field after the release of videos showing masked persons hitting migrants and pushing them back from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Earlier in the day, RTL television showed videos of men wearing ski masks pushing back migrants from Croatia across a backwater of the Korana river, hitting them with batons such as those used by riot police. Some of the men also wore vests like those of riot police.

RTL said the footage was from June and that it was taken during an eight-month journalistic investigation in which an RTL crew took part with colleagues from Lighthouse Reports, an investigative journalistic network based in the Netherlands, from the Swiss SRF Rundschau, the German ARD, ARD Monitor, the French Liberation, the Dutch Pointer, the Croatian Novosti, and the German Der Spiegel.

Ničeno told RTL the Police Directorate saw part of the video for the first time earlier in the day and the whole report later on TV.

"We saw that the material is impressive and the police director decided to form a task force that will go to that supposed terrain tomorrow. Given that these are journalists' claims, today we called the Cetingrad police commissioner and we haven't managed to determine the location of the event," Ničeno said.

He said blows or beatings were not part of regular police procedure and that there was no command or order to push back migrants and beat them. "In order to establish all the facts, everything has to be checked."

Ničeno said Croatia was one of the most successful countries in catching migrant smugglers and that the job of the police was to protect the Croatian border. However, he added, "it's absolutely impossible that someone in the police would order or support such hitting."

Investigation by a number of European media

The video and story about violence against migrants were released in a number of countries, including testimonies by migrants, medical staff, investigators, and analysts.

Investigative journalists Klaas van Dijken and Lamia Šabić recorded the violence near Šturlić on the Bosnian side of the border.

About 20 meters from us, we saw through the bushes four persons with masks hit people and force them into a river up to their chests. By force into the Korana and back to Bosnia, van Dijken said.

By looking at the footage, he said, they noticed that the men wore vests like those of the Croatian riot police.

Analysts also established that the gun one masked man had on his belt was made by the Croatian company HS Produkt, which supplies the Croatian police. They also noticed the baton used by Croatian police.

Also broadcast was drone footage showing persons brought to the border in a van and directed to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The head of Lighthouse Reports coordinated a journalistic investigation on the Romanian and Greek borders as well. Lots of information leads to the conclusion that similar practice is being implemented on other European borders, RTL said.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 2 July 2021

Ressler: We Mustn't Give in to Pressure Regarding Illegal Migrants

ZAGREB, 2 July 2021 - Croatia must not give in to political pressure aimed at changing the policy of preventing illegal migration, Croatian MEP Karlo Ressler said on Friday, adding that Social Democratic Party (SDP) MEPs had been known to be "fall" for "campaigns lambasting" Croatia.

"From the very start of this European Parliament, we have been exposed to political pressure because of our protection of the external border and because of our ambition to become a member of the Schengen Area," Ressler told a virtual press conference called "Asylum, migration and the Schengen Area's functioning" that was organised by the EP's office in Croatia.

Several NGO's and some MEPs claim that Croatia is illegally pushing back migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

As we draw closer to joining the Schengen Area, the pressure in the EP has increased, said Ressler, adding that it is necessary to underline that there cannot be any double standards and that it is a duty to protect the EU's external border.

He added that that entails "respecting all human rights, all high Croatian, European and international standards."

Earlier this year four Italian MEPs (S&D) tried to get to the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and they were prevented from doing so by Croatian police. Prime Minister Andrej Plenković then said that it was an attempt to mar Croatia's reputation. SDP leader Peđa Grbin and his deputy Biljana Borzan, who is also an MEP, then condemned the fact that the Italian MEPs were prevented from getting to the border.

Ressler said that strong awareness exists among European leaders and institutions that "there is no room in Europe for illegally crossing borders."

State-secretary in the Interior Ministry Terezija Gras said that due to the accusations against Croatia that it was violating the rights of migrants, Croatia would allow an "informal visit" to the Croatian border so that the Commission and member states could be convinced of what Croatia has done with regard to improving its technical equipment on the border with BiH and to strengthen its police capacities.

For more on politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated politics page.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Migrant Smuggling Market in Balkans Worth €50 Million

ZAGREB, 11 May, 2021 - The migrant smuggling market in the Western Balkans is worth at least €50 million a year, says a report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, describing Serbia as an important destination for migrants because it borders with four EU member states.

The report notes that Serbian police have discovered several tunnels, three to seven metres deep and up to 30 metres long, under the wire fence along the Serbia-Hungary border near the Hungarian town of Szeged and village of Ásotthalom and the Serbian village of Kelebija.

The tunnels are considered relatively risky due to the possibility of arrest and the danger of them collapsing. The smugglers' fees range from €500 to 5,000.

This is much less than during the 2015 migrant however statistics show that the regional market for migrant smuggling is still large regardless of attempts to close the so-called Balkan migrant smuggling route, says the Global Initiative, an international network fighting acquisition of illegal gain and crime.

Quoting Voice of America, the Belgrade media reported about the report, which focuses on the flows of people, drugs and money in the Western Balkans.

Using maps and analyses helps identify key entry and exit points for migrant smuggling through six Western Balkan countries, as well as locations that serve as drug smuggling hubs. Not even the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have disrupted illicit flows, says the Global Initiative.

Its report identifies Serbia as an important destination for asylum-seekers and migrants because the country borders with four EU members - Croatia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

The report quotes data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) under which in 2019, 30,216 migrants entered Serbia, almost twice as many as in 2018. The report also quotes data from the Serbian Ministry of the Interior under which in 2020 more than 8,500 migrants were prevented from illegally crossing the Serbian border.

 

 

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

USKOK Indicts Nine Migrant Smugglers

ZAGREB, 27 April, 2021 - The anti-corruption office USKOK has indicted an Afghan national and eight Croatian nationals for smuggling migrants.

The Afghan national, who is the principal defendant in the case, is charged with having organised a ring to smuggle migrants across the Croatian-Slovenian border.

The migrants were charged €600-800 for transport from the Croatian-Bosnian border to the border with Slovenia.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Court Grants Constitutional Complaint by Killed Migrant Girl's Family - Večernji List Daily

ZAGREB, 21 April, 2021 - A constitutional complaint by the parents and eight siblings of Afghan migrant girl Madine Hosseini, who died in 2017 after she fell under a train near the Croatian-Serbian border, regarding their application for protection in Croatia, has been granted, Večernji List daily said on Wednesday.

The Constitutional Court established that the Ministry of the Interior (MUP) and administrative courts did not establish with sufficient certainty that Serbia was a safe third country and that asylum seekers would not be at risk of being returned to their country of origin.

A complaint filed by the second wife of Madine's father and children has also been granted, so decisions of the High Administrative Court were quashed for a total of four adults and ten children aged one to 15 from Afghanistan and the case was returned to the Administrative Court in Osijek. All of them were represented by lawyer Sanja Bezbradica Jelavić.

After Madeine's death they were returned to Serbia, but in 2018 they re-entered Croatia and applied for international protection. The father and husband who filed the constitutional complaint said that the Taliban had threatened him because he had worked as a police officer and driver for the US military in Afghanistan, so in fear of them, since he had been wounded in one attack, he managed to flee with his family.

After they illegally entered Croatia, MUP rejected their asylum request by applying the safe third country institute. The explanation was that the Serbian constitution guaranteed fundamental human and minority rights.

Administrative courts also confirmed that Serbia's legal framework guaranteed an efficient and fair procedure of international protection, even from chain refoulement. The fact that they had not been exposed to inhumane or similar treatment in the year and a half they stayed in Serbia was also taken in to account.

However, the lawyer said that the evaluation of Serbia as a safe third country had not taken into account the fact that over the past 10 years refugee statuse had been granted to only 47 persons and subsidiary protection to 62, which was negligible in relation to the number of refugees.

The constitutional judges too ruled that it was not enough to examine the legal framework for asylum seekers but also the real situation, Večernji List said.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

 

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Amnesty International: Croatia Violent Towards Migrants, But Improves in Fighting Gender-Based Violence

ZAGREB, 7 April , 2021 - Amnesty International says in its report on human rights in 2020 that Croatia continued to be violent towards illegal migrants and that access to abortion was constrained, while commending improvements regarding gender-based violence and a ruling allowing same-sex couples to foster children.

"Aid organizations documented over 15,000 cases of pushbacks and collective expulsions, frequently accompanied by violence and abuse," AI says, singling out the case of 15 migrants allegedly beaten by police while being tied to a tree.

The Croatian Interior Ministry regularly denies allegations of migrant abuse.

Gender-based violence

"In January, legal amendments harmonizing the definition of rape in criminal legislation with international standards and increasing penalties for crimes of gender-based violence entered into force," AI says, adding that "the number of reported rape cases more than doubled" as the changes "significantly expanded the scope of the offence. Proceedings continued to be lengthy, lasting between three and five years."

"Due to the reclassification of domestic violence offences, the number of criminal prosecutions for such offences rose sharply. Nevertheless, in the majority of cases, domestic violence continued to be treated as a minor offence attracting minor penalties. Police and courts remained reluctant to enforce protective measures," AI says.

Sexual and reproductive rights

"Women continued to face significant barriers in accessing sexual and reproductive health services and information," AI says.

"The widespread refusal of individual doctors and some clinics to perform abortions on grounds of conscience, as well as prohibitively high costs of services and poor regional coverage of authorized providers, presented an insurmountable obstacle to women of lower social economic status."

A new law on abortion was not adopted, AI says, although the "deadline to replace an outdated law set by the 2017 Constitutional Court ruling expired in February 2019."

Roma discrimination

"Roma continued to face discrimination in all walks of life, including education, health, housing and employment," AI says, adding that due to lack of electricity and the internet, "many Roma children were unable to access any remote learning during school closures, thereby further deepening educational gaps between Roma and non-Roma pupils."

Freedom of expression

"Journalists investigating corruption and organized crime continued to face threats and intimidation," AI says, adding that according to the Croatian Journalists’ Association, over 900 lawsuits were filed against journalists in 2020 for “violation of honour and reputation”.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

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