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News 26 Jul 17

Croatia Broke EU Refugees Rules, ECJ Rules

The European Court of Justice on Wednesday ruled that Croatia broke the EU's Dublin regulations by allowing migrants to cross over to Slovenia and Austria without first examining their asylum claims.

Sven Milekic
Refugees boarding a train in eastern Croatia in 2015. Photo: BETA/HINA/Damir Sencar

The European Court of Justice, ECJ, on Wednesday announced its decision in two cases concerning Slovenia and Austria, which claimed Croatia allowed Syrian and Afghan refugees to enter their territory illegally in 2016.

The cases concern a Syrian refugee who entered Slovenia from Croatia and an Afghan pair who entered Austria via Slovenia and Croatia.

After both Slovenia and Austria denied international protection to the Syrian and the Afghan pair, they took Croatia to the Court, claiming that it had broken the EU's so-called Dublin regulation.

This obliges refugees to seek asylum in the first EU country that they reach - and is designed to stop states on the edge of the EU from passing on migrants elsewhere.

The Court ruled that, under the Dublin regulations, Croatia had a responsibility to examine the migrants' requests for international protection. It said Croatia broke the regulation by allowing them to cross Croatia and enter other EU countries without regular visas.

Allowing an EU country of arrival — Croatia in this case — to wave on migrants to another country, without examining their applications, was “incompatible with the Dublin III Regulation,” the court ruled.

From the start of the refugee crisis in Croatia in September 2015 to the closure of the so-called “Balkan route” in March 2016, hundreds of thousands of refugees crossed Croatia, with the authorities often transporting them by trains and by bus to Hungary and Slovenia.

The Court stated that refugees’ admission into an EU state “should not be confused with visas”, and Croatia had failed to secure them for the mentioned persons.

Furthermore, the Court explained that while a country may decide to allow refugees to enter its own territory without demanding or issuing valid documents, for humanitarian reasons, such permission is only valid for that country – and does not extend to other countries.

The Court further emphasised that transfers of persons requesting international protection must not take place if “there is a real danger that the person concerned suffers inhuman or degrading treatment in the event of such transfer”.

Austrian lawyer Clemens Lahner told the BBC that hundreds of asylum seekers would be affected by the ECJ's decision. "For those already in Croatia - 700 or so - for them the story is over. Austria won't take them back," he was quoted as saying.

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