Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Croatia Agrees to New Distribution of Migrants?

ZAGREB, July 23, 2019 - Fourteen European Union member states, including Croatia, on Monday agreed to the Franco-German "solidarity mechanism" to allocate migrants across the EU, but the proposal was not accepted at the EU level, a source close to the French president told Reuters news agency.

At an informal meeting in Paris, EU interior ministers failed to reach agreement on a migration control mechanism and on migrants rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

"The conclusion of this morning's meeting is that, in principle, 14 member states, at this stage, have expressed their agreement with the Franco-German document," President Emmanuel Macron told journalists. He said the new initiative would be "quick" and "automatic".

A source close to the French presidency told Reuters that in addition to France and Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Lithuania, Croatia and Ireland had also signalled a clear intention to move forward with a new system.

French interior minister Christophe Castaner said last week that the aim of Monday's meeting was to gain the support of about 15 member states for a "solidarity mechanism".

Italy's interior minister Matteo Salvini, whose country is at the forefront of the migrant influx in Europe, did not take part in the meeting. In a letter to Castaner, Salvini warned of the effect of decisions "solely taken in Paris and Berlin."

Italy took in almost all of the migrants rescued by humanitarian groups at sea until a populist coalition government took office in 2018 and immediately sought to close the nation's ports to the charity ships, Reuters said.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 426 people have died during attempts to reach Europe in the Mediterranean Sea so far this year.

Macron also said France had asked the Libyan government to ensure migrants would no longer be placed in custody in the country and that appropriate measures would be taken to ensure their safety.

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

Friday, 19 July 2019

State Prosecutor Calls out Human Rights Ombudswoman

ZAGREB, July 19, 2019 - The State Prosecutor's Office (DORH) has accused Human Rights Ombudswoman Lora Vidović of procedure confidentiality breach by publishing an "anonymous complaint" by border police officers who claim their superiors force them to be violent towards migrants.

Vidović has made a post on her website under the headline "Institutions without response to anonymous complaint by police officer about unlawful actions", enclosing the anonymous complaint.

DORH says it has forwarded the complaint to the relevant prosecutor's office for preliminary investigation, which is under way.

DORH notes that it is therefore not one of the institutions mentioned in the ombudswoman's headline, and that her conclusion "about the lack of response is based solely on the fact that she was not informed about action taken on the anonymous complaint."

It adds that under the law only victims may request from the relevant prosecutor's office to be informed if action has been.

DORH recalls that any action taken during a preliminary investigation as well as information on a person against whom a criminal complaint has been filed is confidential. It adds that investigation confidentiality envisages the protection of the complainant, notably when they voice fear about their personal, job or family safety, as is the case with this anonymous complainant.

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

Friday, 19 July 2019

Frontex to Arrive on Croatia-Bosnia Border?

ZAGREB, July 19, 2019 - Slovenian Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar has mentioned the possibility of sending Frontex (European Border and Coast Guard Agency) to the Croatian-Bosnian border to prevent illegal migration, his ministry said on Thursday.

Poklukar met with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on the fringes of a meeting of EU interior ministers and they discussed migrations and the situation in the Western Balkans, the Slovenian Interior Ministry said.

The two ministers agreed that the problem is not the Slovenian-Italian border but the external EU border which should be protected even better, the ministry said. They expressed willingness to help Croatia if it assesses that it needs help, and Poklukar mentioned the possibility of sending Frontex to the Croatian-Bosnian border, it added.

Poklukar told Salvini that closing the Slovenian-Italian border because of illegal migration was unnecessary and that the situation on the border did not call for it. Any restriction of the border regime on the border would interfere with the everyday life of people living along the border, the ministry said, adding that border closures in history had negative consequences.

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

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

“Police Officers Warn about Violent, Unlawful Pushbacks of Migrants”

ZAGREB, July 17, 2019 - The Centre for Peace Studies (CMS) said on Wednesday that an anonymous complaint by border police officers about systematic unlawful actions by the Croatian police towards migrants showed that the system was "bursting at the seams", and called for an independent and effective investigation as well as for stopping and punishing unlawful actions.

Human Rights Ombudswoman Lora Vidović yesterday published the complaint and the CMS said it was the first confirmation of unlawful police conduct on the ground, given that many domestic and international organisations, institutions and media have been warning about this for years.

The complaint was made public after President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović told Swiss TV last week that Croatian police had been carrying out unlawful pushbacks using "a little bit of force", the CMS said, adding that the Interior Ministry, despite requests, still had not made a comment.

The fact that the human rights ombudswoman, after requesting an investigation, has received no feedback either from the State Prosecutor's Office or parliament, shows that the rule of law is "seriously undermined," the CMS said, adding that the ombudswoman had been warning for months that she was being denied access to data on the treatment of migrants.

The police officers' complaint shows that the dignity as well as the labour and human rights of the police are undermined because they are forced to harm other people and break the law, the CMS said.

Especially worrisome is that the officers said the orders for unlawful pushbacks came from their superiors and that, afraid of losing their jobs, they saw the only way out in an anonymous complaint to Vidovic, the CMS added.

Such lack of trust show that the system is breaking at the seams and that the situation is unacceptable and untenable, it said, calling for an investigation.

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

Monday, 15 July 2019

HRW Calls on Croatia to Stop Pushing Back Migrants to Bosnia

ZAGREB, July 15, 2019 The Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday sent an open letter to President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović calling on Croatia to "immediately stop summarily returning migrants and asylum seekers to Bosnia and Herzegovina, in some cases with force."

"Zagreb needs to put an end to unlawful pushbacks and violence against migrants at its borders," Lydia Gall, senior researcher for Balkans and the Eastern European Union (EU) at Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying.

"Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Council of Europe (COE), have regularly reported on and raised concerns about pushbacks and violence by Croatian border officials at Croatia’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina," the HRW says in its report.

"Croatian authorities had denied the allegations, in some cases with smears of the groups and victims."

"Since July 2018, the European Coast Guard and Border Agency, commonly known as Frontex, has had a presence on the Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina border through a Multipurpose Aerial Surveillance (MAS) system, meaning daily aerial patrols along the border and border area to detect irregularities. One of the priorities of the Frontex operation is to detect human rights violations and summary returns.

"But in late May, Frontex told Human Rights Watch that it had not detected any human rights violations or pushbacks., the NGO says.

The HRW says in its statement that President Grabar-Kitarović's "recent admission during an interview on Swiss television that Croatian officials are engaged in these pushbacks triggers a responsibility by Croatian authorities to investigate and to hold those responsible for any unlawful action to account".

The HRW holds that the Croatian president’s statement calls into question the effectiveness of Frontex’s mission and the extent to which it is capable of fulfilling its mandate to protect human rights while engaged in border control efforts.

"The summary return of asylum seekers without consideration of their protection needs is contrary to EU asylum law, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the 1951 Refugee Convention," the human rights watchdog says.

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

Monday, 8 July 2019

Slovenia to Step Up Control on Border with Croatia

ZAGREB, July 8, 2019 - Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec on Monday announced stepping up the control of the green border with Croatia following more intensified flows of migrants passing through Croatia and Slovenia on their way to Italy and western Europe.

To this end, Slovenia and Italy introduced joint patrols including the police staff from both countries.

After touring the border municipality of Ilirska Bistrica, Šarec said that he could understand the concern expressed by locals facing a growing number of migrants passing through the area, however, sometimes the issue was blown out of proportion for political reasons.

The number of police officers patrolling the borderline has been increased and they will also be assisted by the military and drones, Šarec said, also highlighting the problem of human trafficking.

This year, 5,000 irregular migrants have been arrested in Slovenia, half of whom have been returned to Croatia, and about 130 human traffickers have also been detained.

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

Friday, 5 July 2019

Grabar-Kitarović Expects EU to Realise Union is Defended on Croatian Border

ZAGREB, July 4, 2019 - President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović said on Thursday on the green border in Rakovica, 120 kilometres southwest of Zagreb, that she expected the European Union to realise that the Union was defended on the Croatian border and that she expected a positive opinion on Croatia fulfilling Schengen criteria.

The president held a working meeting in Slunj with the Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff Mirko Šundov and local government and police officials to discuss the situation and problems of illegal migration, after which she inspected the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina with Interior Minister Davor Božinović.

"Croatia, as the EU's external border, cannot allow illegal entries, and our primary and absolute objective is to protect national interests, protect the population on our side of the border," Grabar-Kitarović said, thanking the police for their efforts in such a difficult and dangerous job.

Local authorities said that there had been no incidents concerning migrants and Grabar-Kitarović commended the police for their cooperation.

Minister Božinović said that there was coordination between all stakeholders, local authorities and public institutions, noting that the police, along with the army, were ranked second highest with regard to citizens' trust.

He said that accusations against police behaviour were the result of unsatisfied migrants who cannot proceed further after crossing thousands of kilometres and added that "Croatia is a sovereign state with professionally trained people in the police and army and other constituents of homeland security."

"We have solutions for every challenge and situation. According to surveys, Croatia is one of the safest countries in the EU, but it has the most challenging, most complex, and longest land border in the EU. But with people like this we have nothing to fear," said Božinović.

The President added that she would intensify talks with colleagues in the EU and European Commission because newly-appointed members of the Commission need to be informed of these problems because they aren't just Croatia's problems but the EU's too.

"It is in our interest for Bosnia and Herzegovina and other countries in southeast Europe to enter the EU as soon as possible because that would resolve the pressure of migrants to some extent, but until then it is necessary to invite EU officials to come out into the field to talk with residents on the Croatian side and see what the conditions on the Bosnian side are like," she said, adding that Croatia did not want to become a "hot-spot" for migrants.

"I expect a positive opinion on Croatia fulfilling Schengen criteria, which is nearing completion, and for us to enter the Schengen Area and then for all of the EU and Frontex to be involved here even though, for now, Croatian police forces are sufficient, with the technical support we have, to protect the Croatian border," she said.

She said that Croatia would continue to fulfil the criteria for membership of the Schengen Area and expected the EU's assistance with funding for the Schengen Area and border protection.

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

Thursday, 4 July 2019

President Tells Croats in Bihać Croatia Monitors Migrant Crisis

ZAGREB, July 4, 2019 - Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović has written to a group of Croat residents of the northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina town of Bihać, telling them that Croatia has been closely following the migrant crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Sarajevo-based Dnevni Avaz daily said on Thursday.

Bosnia and Herzegovina Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak confirmed to the daily that the Croatian president replied through his ministry to a letter by four Bihać residents who asked her in a letter to intervene over a decision by town authorities to set up a new migrant centre in Vučjak, only ten kilometres from the border with Croatia.

The four Bihać residents believe this move jeopardises the few remaining Croats living in villages close to Vučjak.

In her reply, Grabar-Kitarović said that she and Croatian authorities were following developments in the area of Bihać and that she had forwarded the letter to the Croatian ministries of foreign and internal affairs for further action.

The Croatian president did not specify what the two ministries would do with regard to the situation in the neighbouring country.

The largest number of migrants who illegally enter Bosnia and Herzegovina and attempt to reach the Western Europe via Croatia have been staying in the northwestern Una-Sana Canton and the towns of Bihać and Velika Kladuša, close to the border with Croatia.

As two migrant centres opened in downtown Bihać have become overcrowded, two months ago the town authorities decided to set up a new migrant centre at Vučjak, seven kilometres from the town centre.

A large number of migrants are staying there in a tent settlement in poor conditions and the EU has said that it will not finance it because the settlement does not meet even the most basic conditions for normal functioning considering that it is located in rugged terrain and is close to areas believed to be infested with mines and even lacks running water.

The head of the Delegation of the EU in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, has suggested that the country should consider the model used by Serbian authorities which have distributed migrants evenly in 18 centres across the country.

Representatives of Bosnia and Herzegovina will discuss this dispute with EU officials in Brussels on July 17.

The EU has said that this year it will set aside slightly less than 15 million euros for Bosnia and Herzegovina to deal with the migrant crisis.

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

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

EU Allocates 14.8 Million Euro for Migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina

ZAGREB, June 26, 2019 - The Delegation of the European Union to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday said that the EU would allocate 14.8 million euro to Bosnia and Herzegovina "to address the needs of migrants and refugees who remain present" in that country.

The assistance includes 13 million euro of support "to migration management – for which an implementation agreement was signed on 21 June with the International Organisation for Migration – and 1.8 million euro for humanitarian aid."

"This brings EU overall assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina to cope with the increased migratory flow since 2018 to 24 million euro (20.2 million euro from the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance and 3.8 million euro of humanitarian aid)," the EU says.

Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations was quoted as saying: that "Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities need to ensure effective coordination, at all levels, of border management and migration management capacity, as well as the functioning of the asylum system. This is necessary for the country to take full advantage of the EU substantial assistance – in the interest of refugees and migrants and of the local communities."

Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, was quoted as saying that "the EU is committed to help those most in need and cover the basic needs of refugees and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina, complementing national efforts."

"It is important that the well-being of the refugees and migrants is at the heart of decisions for the location and quality of accommodation centres."

The statement recalls that local authorities proceeded with a forced relocation of 900-1000 refugees and migrants to a new location called Vučijak "that has been deemed unsuitable by the European Union and UN."

"The above-mentioned venue, without the necessary infrastructure in terms of water, sanitation or electricity, surrounded by minefields, creates a clear danger for the life and health of migrants. Furthermore, the land is a former landfill and may still be toxic. The European Union is concerned about the well-being of the people moved there and has, together with its humanitarian partners, requested the authorities to stop forced relocations and provide dignified and secure shelter solutions. The European Union is also concerned about the authorities’ intention to take measures against humanitarian partners."

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

Friday, 21 June 2019

Accusations Against Croatian Police’s Treatment of Migrants Not Confirmed

ZAGREB, June 21, 2019 - Interior Minister Davor Božinović on Friday inspected the Grabovac border monitoring centre, telling reporters that for now no misconduct had been identified in the police treatment of illegal migrants in a mountain hut on Mount Risnjak and that an investigation was still ongoing.

"Croatian police have interviewed staff. Our reports do not confirm the events from the anonymous report on that day and place, and the police are very strict when it comes to complaints of official misconduct and such behaviour is punished," Božinović said.

He added that he could not speculate on the motives of a mountaineer who had sent an anonymous letter to the media accusing the police of inhumane treatment of migrants.

He said that "he had no idea" who had sent the anonymous letter and concluded that the police were being criticised by migrants because they had been stopped on their way to Western Europe.

The fact that they managed to enter Croatia fairly easily speaks more of the countries along the way, he said and added that Croatia is a serious country that implements its laws.

The letter sent to the H-alter website by an anonymous mountaineer notes that he saw special police on Mount Risnjak beating migrants with their rifle butts and shooting above their heads to intimidate them.

Replying to reporters regarding a new refugee camp in Vučjak near the town of Bihać in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, Božinović said that it was obvious that local authorities were sending a message to the migrants, "head toward Croatia."

"That hasn't surprised us. We are always a few steps ahead and anticipate events. We have sufficient forces and technology and are very flexible and mobile and can respond to any challenge," Božinović concluded.

He underscored that these were not asylum seekers but illegal migrants who wish to find work in western EU countries. Croatia however cannot allow illegal crossings and has no intention of becoming a "hot-spot", Božinović said, noting that refugees seeking accommodation and asylum in Croatia are being assisted.

Chief of police Nikola Milina said that there were about 600 migrants around Vučjak and about 5,000 in all in Bosnia and Herzegovina, adding that the police were ready to respond should the migrant pressure increase.

Asked about the misconduct of some police officers toward migrants, Milina said that some officers had been punished, however in most cases these were false accusations, recalling a Syrian refugee who had falsely claimed that he had been separated from his daughter and who was later charged as a result.

He said that the pressure of illegal migrants was constant and that last year more than 1,000 people traffickers had been arrested.

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

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