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Human Rights Watch calls on Croatia to end migrant pushbacks as president admits use of force

Croatia should immediately stop summarily returning migrants and asylum seekers to Bosnia and Herzegovina, in some cases with force, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

Croatia’s president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, recently acknowledged the unlawful situation and admitted that in some instances force was used, contradicting previous denials by Croatian officials.

“I ask you to order both an investigation into unlawful pushbacks of migrants by Croatian border officials and a halt to such actions,” said Hugh Williamson, HRW director of Europe and Central Asia, in an open letter to the president.

Several NGOs, together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), have regularly reported on and raised concerns about pushbacks and violence by Croatian border officials at Croatia’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, while Croatian authorities had always denied the allegations.

“Zagreb needs to put an end to unlawful pushbacks and violence against migrants at its borders,” said Lydia Gall, senior researcher for Balkans and the Eastern European Union at Human Rights Watch. “Croatian border officials have mistreated hundreds, perhaps thousands, of migrants and asylum seekers, who deserve redress and justice.”

Human Rights Watch found in a December 2018 report that Croatian border officials apprehend migrants far inside Croatian territory, and without due process push them back into Bosnia and Herzegovina. In some cases, they use force, pummeling people with fists, kicking them, and making people cross freezing streams, and run gauntlets between police officers. Violence is directed against women and children in some cases.

“The denial of Croatia’s abusive border policies by Zagreb and EU institutions is no longer tenable,” Mrs Gall said. “The European Commission needs to protect EU law and fundamental rights at external borders by opening infringement proceedings against Croatia and calling on authorities to investigate alleged abuse and provide fair and efficient access to asylum.”