Friday, 22 April 2022

The Road to Freedom: Vukovar Welcomes Ukraine from the Front Line

April 22, 2022 - Croatia 1991 - Ukraine 2022: The Road to Freedom. Meet Vukovar 365, full of compassion. The city that is still recovering over 30 years later knows the pain. Its people have been through hell and back. They would not wish this upon anyone, yet it's happening. Ukrainian people have always been Vukovar's friends, their culture enriching the area that this minority has historically been a part of. Not that we should seek reasons to help, but the people of Vukovar have got plenty and they are always willing to step up.

Hrv reports on a conference that was held in Zagreb, titled "Croatia 1991 - Ukraine 2022: The Road to Freedom", citing Vukovar's hero war reporter Siniša Glavašević who said, "You have to rebuild. First, your past, your present, and then, if you have any strength left, invest it in the future".

As the title suggests, the topic of the conference was the similarities between the ongoing war in Ukraine with the war that Croatia fought in 1991 to gain its independence and freedom. Damir Luka Saftić, representative of the "Za Vukovar" association commented that the pearl of the Danube bled 31 years ago like the Azov Sea's Mariupol is today, saying that "the resemblance is appalling".

The participants of the conference included Vasilj Kirilič, Ambassador of Ukraine to Croatia, Željka Antunović, former Minister of Defense, Yevhen Stepanenko, Ukrainian journalist, Tomislav Marević of the Croatian Civil Protection Directorate, Robert Barić, military analyst, Jakov Sedlar, film director, and Vukovar veterans Damir Poljaković and Tomislav Orešković.

"Croatia has defended its independence and the message for Ukraine is that it can do so too because we are strong in spirit and I believe that we will defend our country. The city of Mariupol is a symbol of defense, as is the Croatian city of Vukovar", said Ambassador Kirilić.

"When you know that your whole family, wife, child, and parents are in the basement, your whole city is in that basement, everyone from your street, friends, your football club, factory, then your strength appears from somewhere and it was either us or them, there was nothing else," said Damir Poljaković, a Vukovar hero who defended the city in 1991 at Trpinjska cesta.

Following the conference, and with Orthodox Easter approaching, the city of Vukovar in partnership with the local Red Cross organised a humanitarian donation action for the Ukrainian refugees in the city. 

A total of 40 refugees from Ukraine are accommodated in Vukovar, writes hrv, which includes 16 families with 18 children. To provide assistance in difficult times, but also to celebrate the upcoming Easter holidays, the City of Vukovar and the Vukovar Red Cross Society provided special food packages for refugees from Ukraine in the Vukovar area, as well as candy packages for the youngest.

The packages were handed over to the Ukrainian people by the Deputy Mayor of Vukovar, Filip Sušac, who emphasized that the City of Vukovar, in cooperation with the Red Cross, is trying to make life easier for refugees. "The city of Vukovar has decided to help Ukrainians who are in the area of ​​our city through a series of measures. In cooperation with the City Museum, the City Library, and sports clubs, we have ensured that all Ukrainian refugees can use their services completely free of charge. The City of Vukovar has called on all fellow citizens to help the refugees as much as they can, and we appeal to the Government of the Republic of Croatia to make Hostel Zagreb available - explained Sušac.

Marija Semenjuk Simeunović, Secretary of the Ukrainian Community of the Republic of Croatia, emphasized that all persons who came from war-torn Ukraine feel welcome in Croatia and thanked everyone for their support.

"Displaced persons who came from Ukraine to our city, county, but also the Republic of Croatia, in general, feel welcome. We have all shown compassion and solidarity in some way, especially since we went through the horrors of war 30 years ago. Through their programs, our Ukrainian associations from the entire Republic of Croatia want to include and integrate the Ukrainian people into our society", said Semenjuk Simeunović.

For more, check out our lifestyle section.

Monday, 18 April 2022

Šimonović Einwalter: System Must Change After the Verdict On Madina's Death

April 18, 2022 - Ombudswoman Tena Šimonović Einwalter believes that, after the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights that holds the Croatian government responsible for the death of little Madina Hosseini, the system must be changed to one that guarantees the security and respect for the human rights of the refugees who enter to Croatia. She points out, in relation to the current situation in Ukraine, that she would like a future response from the EU to be the same for all those escaping the horrors of war.

Ombudswoman Tena Šimonovic Einwalter said in an interview with Hina that, following the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the death of Madina Hosseini, it is important to change the system because ''as a state we want to respect human rights. This is the complete opposite of what Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and the Croatian representative in the Strasbourg court, Štefica Stažnik, claim''. Namely, they both assure that this is not a systemic problem, because Croatia has not been declared responsible for the death of little Madina, but for an ineffective investigation into her death.

The six-year-old girl, Madina Hosseini was killed in November 2017 when she was hit by a train on the Croatian-Serbian border after her family had allegedly been denied the opportunity to seek asylum by Croatian authorities and were ordered to return to Serbia via the tracks.


Madina Hosseini (Photo: Family album)

The ECtHR confirmed that in Madina's case, Croatia had violated rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. As stated in the verdict, Madina's right to life, humiliated her family's children by keeping them in custody, illegally deprived the whole family of their liberty, and collectively expelled part of the family from Croatia and denied them access to a lawyer.

Why is this verdict significant?

In an interview with Hina, Ombudswoman Tena Šimonović Einwalter commented on the significance of the verdict itself and the moves that Croatia needs to make in order to execute the verdict of that court.

Speaking about the human rights situation, Šimonović Einwalter announced that, in addition to the annual report already published, she would soon present a special report to the Croatian Parliament on the impact of the epidemic in the last two years on human rights and equality.

HINA: The ECtHR passed a verdict deciding in this particular case, but can it be said that it also said that Croatia is systematically violating the rights of refugees at the borders?

ŠIMONOVIC EINWALTER: It is difficult for the ECHR to say that in that way, in those words. This verdict addresses the issue of the treatment of Madina's family, in this specific situation. But the court also says that the case "raises several important issues about migration control by the Croatian authorities" and that "the impact of this case goes beyond the special situation of the family". The court also took into account a number of earlier allegations of violations of migrants' rights.

Some sentences from the decision, it seems to me, therefore indicate that the impact of the case goes beyond this particular family situation and I think it is good to read it that way if we want changes. It is important to carefully analyze and seriously implement this court decision and change the system because as a state we want to respect national law, European law, international law, and human rights. Is there the will to do it? I really hope so.

HINA: The court found that the convention had been violated because the police at the border did not assess the individual situation of the refugee family before they were deported to Serbia. It did not accept the state's argument that the refugee family was crossing the border illegally. What does this mean now, since the beginning of that refugee crisis, it has been persistently emphasized that we are "defending" ourselves at the borders from those who break the law by crossing them?

ŠIMONOVIĆ EINWALTER: In fact, the legal situation was clear even before this decision. It is often pointed out that the police should guard the border, that illegal crossing of the state border is prohibited, and that is exactly what the law says. At the same time, it is legally defined that persons have the right to seek international protection, regardless of the manner of entry into the country. Therefore, there must be an individualized procedure. It includes, because of the risk of violating international law, the possibility that people who are in a specific situation because of fleeing war and exposure to practices such as torture or the death penalty in their countries of origin have the right to seek international protection. It is also needed by people who are victims of human trafficking, rape, or severe violence.

You can't know if that person will have the right to asylum without conducting a procedure - to ask who that person is, where he is fleeing from and why, it is not written on anyone's forehead. As a first contact, officials should try to identify vulnerable people who may want to apply for international protection.

This is a matter of individualized approach, where special vulnerability is sometimes visible at first, for example in children or unaccompanied children, and the best interests of the child must take precedence.


Tena Šimonović Einwalter (Photo: Zeljko Hladika/PIXSELL)

HINA: In the next six months, Croatia must conduct an effective investigation into Madina's death, but also draw up an action plan to eliminate the violations identified by the court. Will this change the situation and the protocol for treating refugees?

ŠIMONOVIĆ EINWALTER: Within six months, but maybe earlier, the Office of the Representative of the Republic of Croatia before the ECtHR must adopt an action plan. In this regard, through a body in which representatives of various institutions participate, we can also give expert opinions and proposals, and it includes ministries, courts, the Constitutional Court, and others. The point of the ECtHR judgments is justice for individuals, but also to change the practice, if necessary the laws, in order to respect the legal standards of human rights protection. It can also be a question of, for example, how to conduct an effective investigation, which was an important issue in this case. We have also heard that Minister Davor Božinović has publicly stated that the responsibility in such cases is on the system and that we need to see what are the things that can and should be corrected.

HINA: Has the Ukrainian crisis shown that those fleeing the war can be treated differently?

ŠIMONOVIĆ EINWALTER: We are currently witnessing great solidarity of citizens towards Ukrainians, but I would like to remind you that we saw this solidarity of citizens in 2015 as well - and then many were ready to help. However, now the European Union has reacted differently than in 2015. The Temporary Protection Directive existed even then, and could theoretically be activated. It is a political decision at the EU level.

With the recent activation of the directive, IDPs from Ukraine have a much simpler and faster procedure. What can be discussed is whether it should have been activated in the past. Could it have been any different for some other people fleeing another war? I believe that a new level of solidarity and assistance to refugees is now being seen. In an ideal world, I would like to see Europe respond in this way to all refugees fleeing the horrors of war.

HINA: Your report makes recommendations on how to address the shortcomings you have identified in the implementation of human rights. Judging by the number, a total of 156 recommendations, a lot of work, what needs to be worked on the most?

ŠIMONOVIĆ EINWALTER: There are many problems, and I would like to point out the problems of access to health care and health services, the need for stronger support and protection of senior citizens, the issue of access to information for citizens regarding rights, and how to exercise them. It is necessary to ensure that the institutions suit them, that the procedures do not take too long, that they are less formalistic, and that their work shows the understanding that they are there for the citizens, to provide them with an easier way to exercise their rights. In some areas, the problems are long-lasting, I have been working in this institution for 14 years and changes are happening slowly.

We also point out systemic problems analytically and comprehensively. What I am always happy about are the improvements, and of course, there are some, especially when fulfilling some of our recommendations, either in an individual case or these systematic ones from the annual report, lead to a higher level of rights for citizens. That is the point of these recommendations. From the Report for 2020, 43 percent of the recommendations were implemented, which is a big jump compared to 2019, when 20 percent of them were implemented. I hope this trend continues.

HINA: In times of insecurity, the most socially vulnerable groups are particularly hard hit. How should the state act on this?

ŠIMONOVIĆ EINWALTER: Those who have been ill before always suffer the most. It will be the same now - it is the poorer senior citizens, but also those who live near the poverty line. Single-parent families and those with three or more children are in a difficult position.

Government measures to alleviate the situation are welcome, but they will certainly not remove all concerns from citizens. It is important to monitor at the state level whether the measures should be corrected, with special attention to the impact on those who find it particularly difficult, and we will monitor this as well.

HINA: A large number of complaints were related to the use of covid certificates and vaccinations. How has the epidemic affected equality and human rights in Croatia?

SIMONOVIC EINWALTER: We have been through a lot in these two years. The epidemic is still actually going on, so while many of us are feeling relieved, no one knows what will happen in the fall. These experiences should be used to learn and strengthen the key sectors: health, social, education, and civil protection. We are currently finalizing a special report on the impact of the epidemic on human rights and equality in those two years, which we will soon submit to Parliament. The purpose of this report is to see what the effects of the epidemic are and how to manage it. It has changed our lives and we need to see what can be done better and differently.

That is why we analyze the impact on certain human rights and certain groups of citizens because some have fared worse. These are the elderly, but they are not the only ones. There is also the impact of poverty and the availability of different services. The fact is that not everyone could be vaccinated, for health reasons, and at the same time, we had the question of the availability of testing, which was not the same for everyone. There are also lessons about informing citizens, given the fake news and misinformation. We will include all of this in the recommendations, and I hope that this report will be the basis for positive progress towards strengthening the resilience of society in the future, to the epidemic, but also to other possible crises.

For more, check out our politics section.

Saturday, 16 April 2022

Over 14,300 Ukrainian Refugees Have Entered Croatia So Far

ZAGREB, 16 April 2022 - Since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 14,340 refugees from that eastern European country have arrived in Croatia, the Croatian Civil Protection Directorate said on Saturday.

Of them, 7,044 (49.1%) are women, and 5,242 are children (36.6%), while the remaining 2,045 (14.3%) are men.

Most of them, 12,625, are being accommodated individually, and 1,691 are in collective accommodation facilities, while currently 24 refugees are in reception centres.

The Croatian Civil Protection Directorate has made 38 facilities available for refugees where they can be provided with accommodation.

Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Living in Vukovar - Support for Ukrainian Refugees

April 12, 2022 – Ukrainian refugees are welcome in Vukovar, the city that has felt their pain. It’s now time to rely on past experience to serve as a guide in supporting those in need. The city's institutions, organisations, and residents are coming together to provide a warm welcome and offer a helping hand to those living in Vukovar.

As Jutarnji writes, the citizens of Vukovar and members of refugee families from Ukraine all gathered in Vukovar on Monday, 11th of April to take part in the public forum “Living in Vukovar”, organised by Europe House Vukovar and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

“Since the people of Vukovar have experience of war and living in other areas, we know that we all needed friendly words and little signs of appreciation in the beginning. We thus wanted to organise a meetup for people in the local community with the aim of exchanging information, making new contacts and so that refugees from Ukraine can integrate into the local community regardless of how long they will stay”, said the executive director of Europe House Vukovar, Dijana Antunović Lazić.

According to the project coordinator at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Branka Smoljan, it is extremely important to work on integration to make sure that refugees have the best chance of fitting into a new environment.

“This is the first such project, to be followed by similar projects in the north of Croatia, in Koprivnica, Čakovec, and Varaždin, where the largest number of Ukrainian refugees arrive,” Smoljan said.

According to the secretary of the Ukrainian community in Croatia, Marija Semenjuk Simeunović, about 200 Ukrainians have so far arrived in the Vukovar-Srijem County.

“We recently organized a workshop to which we invited many displaced persons, especially children, to connect with our members and to feel welcome in our city”, said Semenjuk Simeunović.

For more, check out our lifestyle section.

Saturday, 9 April 2022

Croatia to Commit an Additional €100 Million to Ukrainian Refugees

ZAGREB, 9 April 2022 - Croatia will increase its assistance to the friendly Ukrainian people and as part of the Global Citizen Impact initiative commit an additional €100 million to Ukrainian refugees, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Saturday.

"As the brutal Russian aggression against Ukraine continues, we wish to express support and solidarity with the Ukrainian people," Plenković said in a Twitter post.

"Croatia pledges to commit an additional €100 million to Ukrainian refugees" to be taken in by Croatia, he said.

"In this difficult time for the Ukrainian people, we will continue with our support, solidarity and assistance, standing with Ukraine and Ukrainians," he said.

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, four million people have fled the country, according to UNHCR.

According to the latest data, there are more than 12,600 Ukrainian refugees in Croatia.  

For more, check out our politics section.

Saturday, 9 April 2022

Grlić Radman: Krakow Has Very Well Organised Reception of Ukrainian Refugees

ZAGREB, 9 April 2022 - Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlić Radman said in Krakow on Saturday that the city had responded in a good and organised way to the arrival of refugees from Ukraine fleeing the Russian invasion, who have increased the city's population by some 20%.

"Krakow has been faced with refugees not since yesterday but since 2015. At the time, Europe took in around one million migrants, including illegal migrants. Today there are 2.5 million refugees in Poland alone, and they have been promptly integrated," Grlić Radman told reporters after meeting with the mayor of Krakow, who, he said, "was also interested in our experience with refugees during the Homeland War."

Speaking of the refugees from Ukraine, he said they left their country fleeing the Russian aggression and that they had been given a friendly welcome.

The refugees have been enabled to continue with education and have been provided with adequate accommodation, Grlić Radman said.

Krakow Mayor Jacek Majchrowski said the refugee crisis was putting huge pressure on the city administration, with the refugees now accounting for close to one quarter of the city's population.

Majchrowski explained how their reception and integration had been organised but stressed that the problem was that "women, children and the elderly have come here while men, who could work in Poland, have returned to Ukraine."

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, four million people have fled the country while the total number of those displaced exceeds ten million, according to UNHCR.

More than 2.52 million Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Poland, according to Polish border services.

For more, check out our politics section.

Tuesday, 5 April 2022

12,403 Ukrainian Refuges in Croatia, HRK 3m Raised

ZAGREB, 5 April 2022 - There are 12,403 Ukrainian refugees in Croatia, Civil Protection director Damir Trut said on Tuesday, while Red Cross Croatia president Robert Markt said HRK 3 million had been raised as well as various goods collected.

They were visiting the reception centre for displaced Ukrainians in Gospić, one of three in Croatia.

Markt said that of the 131 Red Cross organisations in Croatia, 25 had asked for funds for the refugee crisis and that HRK 511,000 had been paid into their accounts.

In Lika-Senj County, 517 Ukrainians have been temporarily accommodated in hotels and motels. Trut said a call had been advertised in the county for their accommodation in privately-owned houses and flats, with utility bills to be paid by the government.

Psychosocial assistance has been provided to 2,657 Ukrainians. Twenty-two Ukrainian children from first to seventh grade have been enrolled in Gospić's Ivan Turić Elementary School.

(€1 = HRK 7.5)

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Info Centre for Ukrainian Refugees Opens in Osijek

ZAGREB, 22 March 2022 - An information centre for Ukrainian refugees who have fled from the Russian invasion of their country was opened in Osijek in the main square and it will provide information regarding accommodation in Osijek-Baranja County which is currently caring for about 350 refugees.

After Osijek Mayor Ivan Radić and County Prefect Ivan Anušić visited the centre on Tuesday, Anušić said that the integration of Ukrainian refugees in communities in Osijek-Baranja County was going well.

"Refugees can contact this Info Centre to solve their issues and needs, from obtaining documents to communicating with possible employers," Aničić explained.

The Osijek-Baranja County Prefect called on all employers in need of workers to contact the centre where they can be connected with Ukrainians who seek employment. Anyone willing to make their residential premises available to refugees can also contact the centre because the European Commission and Croatian government will cover the cost of their accommodation for the next three years, he added.

Mayor Radić recalled that the county and city authorities promptly prepared themselves for this situation and adopted an Action Plan.

City authorities have prepared a children's corner in the city's Cultural Centre which has already been filled and plans are being prepared for its extension he said and underscored that city authorities were doing everything in their power to help refugees feel welcome.

An attorney and interpreter are present at the Info Centre every day while volunteers assist with everyday tasks in cooperation with Osijek's Faculty of Law.

A Croatian language course has been announced for refugees to help them to be better integrated into the community. The first group consists of 30 adults with childcare services provided while they are attending classes.

Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Several Hundred Ukrainian Refugees Staying in Northern Croatian Counties

ZAGREB, 15 March 2022 - Several hundred refugees from Ukraine have been provided with accommodation in Varaždin, Međimurje, and Krapina-Zagorje counties northern Croatia, and more and more are arriving on a daily basis.

Varaždin Civil Protection Service head Ivica Matošić told Hina on Tuesday that 106 Ukrainian refugees are currently staying in Varaždin County.

He noted that the county authorities were doing their best to secure the necessary accommodation capacity for the reception of more refugees.

Matošić said that around 1,200 beds were available in private accommodation.

340 refugees enter Croatia in last 24 hours

A​​​​​ccording to the latest information, 340 Ukrainian refugees entered Croatia via the Goričan border crossing in the last 24 hours, Međimurje County Civil Protection head Josip Grivec said.

Eighty-five of them will continue their journey to other countries while 15 have said that they will stay in Međimurje County, Grivec said, noting that the refugees were women and children and that they were staying in private accommodation.

In Krapina-Zagorje County there are currently 27 Ukrainian refugees, the head of the county Civil Protection service, Stjepan Skuliber, said.

Since a reception centre has still not been set up in the county, the refugees are staying in private accommodation.

Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Croatian Bar Association Offers Free Legal Aid to Ukrainian Refugees

ZAGREB, 8 March 2022 - The Croatian Bar Association (HOK) on Tuesday stated that it had joined in a campaign by the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE) to offer free legal aid to Ukrainian refugees.

Offering free legal aid is in compliance with national legislation on lawyers and their code of ethics, which envisages such assistance to endangered individuals and victims of the 1991-95 Homeland War.

HOK recalls that lawyers represent, free of charge, underage clients in certain cases as well as asylum seekers and members of the Roma community in the City of Zagreb and in Međimurje, Slavonski Brod-Posavina and Primorje-Gorski Kotar counties.

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