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News 20 Jan 17

Croatia Accused of Forcing Asylum-Seekers Out

Campaign group Human Rights Watch claimed Croatian police have been forcing asylum-seekers across the border to Serbia, sometimes using violence, without allowing them to make asylum claims.

Sven Milekic
Refugees in Belgrade. Photo: BETAPHOTO/EMIL VAS/MO

Human Rights Watch said on Friday 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.

Ten Afghani asylum seekers – including two unaccompanied children – told the campaign group that they were deported to Serbia in November, after not being allowed to file an application for asylum, although they said they wanted to at the border.

Nine of them said that policemen punched and kicked them, and their money and mobile phones were taken from them.

Lydia Gall, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that such abusive treatment of asylum-seekers is “unworthy of an EU state”.

“Authorities in Zagreb need to make sure that all officials are doing their duty to protect asylum seekers and not violently forcing them back to Serbia,” Gall said.

“The European Commission should press Zagreb to comply with its obligations under EU and refugee law, investigate alleged abuses and provide meaningful access to asylum and fair procedures for those on its territory and at its borders,” she added.

Human Rights Watch urged Croatian authorities to investigate the claims and said it had informed the interior ministry about its fndings.

One of the Afghanis, 18-year-old Ahmed, told the campaign group that he was assaulted while entering Croatia on November 21 along with 27 other men.

“My little brother and I were beaten … They hit me on the back and on my legs with batons … There was no reason for it… If you talked they [officials] would beat more. I was scared so I didn’t speak. Others were beaten more than me because they didn’t immediately sit down when they were told to,” he said in testimony quoted by Human Rights Watch.

He said that the Croatian officials took their cell phones, pushed them across the border and told them not to return.

Another 18-year-old Afghani described how he was travelling with a group of 29 people when he was caught by the police deep inside Croatian territory. They were then driven back to the border, and the policemen beat all the single males, he alleged.

“It was good that I had a lot of clothes as it served as padding. They [officials] beat me with a baton on my head and legs. Five of them beat me …They also beat us as they made us run back into Serbia,” he told Human Rights Watch.

One of the countries on the Balkan refugee route, Croatia was accused this month by the Jesuit Refugee Service of illegally sending refugees back to Serbia.

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