News 04 Jan 17

Croatia Accused of Illegally Deporting Refugees

After the Jesuit Refugee Service accused the Croatian authorities of illegally deporting refugees, the Croatian Interior Ministry has denied that such expulsions are against international law.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Illustration. Photo: Beta

Croatia has illegally deported refugees to Serbia, breaking international laws, the Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS, in the country claims.

The Catholic organisation said it had reported the Croatian Interior Ministry to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, and to the Croatian ombudsman's office, the head of the JRS for south-eastern Europe, Tvrtko Barun, told a TV show on Tuesday.

Barun said a number of people who had requested asylum in Croatia had, after a short procedure, been deported to Serbia.

“The police ... put them in Jezevo [a holding centre near Zagreb], and then sent them to Serbia. This is a violation of international law,” he said on the show, adding that his service had not received an answer as yet to its complaint from UNHCR or the ombudsman's office.

In a statement, JRS explained that one specific case they were referring to, a person from Afghanistan, had sought asylum in Croatia but was nevertheless deported to Serbia.

This was a “direct violation of the right of access to a fair and effective process of obtaining international protection”, it said.

Barun said that this was not an isolated case, adding that from 2014 onwards Croatia had offered only 251 people some form of protection according to international law.

The Croatian Interior Ministry on Tuesday responded that all migrants who do not seek the country's protection are liable to be deported from Croatia and from the EU.

The ministry added that the number of people seeking international protection in Croatia “drastically rose” in 2016, with 2,230 requests compared to 211 requests in 2015.

The UNHCR in late December said that Serbia had also deported refugees, to Bulgaria and Macedonia.

Serbia's Labour and Social Rights Minister, Aleksandar Vulin, replied at the time that no one was illegally deported from Serbia, and that everyone who entered the procedure for attaining asylum had a right to remain until the process was over.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees crossed the so-called "Balkan route" in 2016, moving through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia towards Western Europe. The route was closed in March 2016.

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