News 07 Jun 17

Croatia Police ‘Stop Beating Refugees’ After Reports

Croatian NGOs told BIRN that police only stop using violence against refugees at the country’s border after alleged misconduct by officers is made public.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
A refugee allegedly beaten by the Croatia police at the border. Photo: Facebook/'Are You Syrious'

Two NGOs told BIRN that Croatian police only react to reports of violence against refugees at the border after accusations of beatings and photographs of injuries are publicised in the media and on social networks.

According to reports from various NGOs, some refugees have been beaten, some of their private property confiscated and some have been forced out of Croatia, mostly to neighbouring Serbia, from where they entered Croatia.

Milena Zajovic, the president of the Zagreb-based NGO ‘Are You Syrious?’, which took photos and talked to some of the beaten refugees, told BIRN that the police took action after these reports were published.

“Indicatively, after we went public with this story, the violence on the border has almost disappeared for a few days, and this has happened in earlier cases when we publicly […] reported violence at the Croatian border,” she said.

“Someone in the [Interior] Ministry or the police main directorate seems to have the power to instantly effectively stop the violence at the Croatian border, so a logical conclusion is that he has the power to order it,” she added.

Zajovic said that the ministry is currently investigating the issue but has rejected the idea that the violence is systematic and claims not to have any knowledge of attacks on refugees by its officers.

Other international organisations – the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Doctors without Borders and Doctors of the World – also recorded an increase in violence against refugees in late May, while various refugee groups have said that refugees have given identical corroborating reports of violent incidents.

Another refugee allegedly beaten by the Croatian police at the border. Photo: Facebook/'Are You Syrious'

The Interior Ministry told BIRN on Tuesday that it already expressed a clear position that it will not support "any form of violence and intolerance from the police officers", especially towards migrants who, because of their special vulnerability, "seek international protection" in the country.

“The General Police Directorate strongly rejects any allegation of NGOs that police officers unlawfully treat migrants upon commanders’ orders, as well as [claims that] these activities are organised. In this regard, we state that it is in the interest of this Ministry to check all allegations of cases referred to by […] NGOs and investigate any form of violation of the law-based rights,” it said.

The ministry also said that the State Attorney office is processing the criminal complaints filed by NGOs reiterating that the police never recorded “any unprofessional or unlawful treatment of migrants” so far.

Lea Horvat from another Zagreb-based NGO, the Centre for Peace Studies, also told BIRN that the police reactions always followed after their reports were made public – in January and March – and especially when criminal report against unknown perpetrators were filed.

“We noticed while working on the ground that violence would usually disappear after reports were made public. This is what happened with these latest reports. In the last few days, there has been no mention of new violence,” she told BIRN.

Various reports of alleged police violence and unlawful treatment of refugees were made earlier this year.

In January, the Jesuit Refugee Service reported the Croatian Interior Ministry to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, and to the Croatian ombudsman's office for illegally deporting refugees to Serbia.

The same month, Human Rights Watch warned that Croatian police have not been respecting the rights of asylum-seekers arriving in the country and have been pushing them back across the border to neighbouring Serbia.

The refugee crisis on the so-called ‘Balkan route’, which hit Croatia in September 2015, calmed down after Balkan countries closed their borders to refugees and migrants in March 2016.

Smaller groups still try to enter Croatia and continue to central and northern Europe, mostly to Germany.

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