News 12 Jan 17

Slovenia Aliens Act Proposal Worries Croatia

Croatian experts fear Slovenia's planned changes to the Aliens Act, heralding stricter procedures towards refugees and asylum seekers, could create problems for it.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Refugee camp on the border between Slovenia and Croatia. Photo: Beta

Slovenian plans to toughen its procedures for receiving refugees and asylum seekers worries activists and migrant experts in Croatia, where it is feared that the changes could cause additional problems.

Experts told BIRN that Slovenia’s move would endanger the rights and security of refugees traveling to Western Europe along the "Balkan route" but would not end migration per se.

Milena Zajovic, from the Croatian NGO "Are You Syrious", told BIRN that asylum seekers and refugees will continue to cross the border between Slovenia and Croatia illegally. Stricter rules “won’t change anything but will further lower the level of their lives and put their security at risk”,  she said.

The Slovenian government backed an amendment to the existing Aliens Act on Thursday, introducing stricter procedures towards asylum seekers and refugees for a special six-month period – with a possible extension for another six months.

It is likely to be backed by the country's parliament in which the plan enjoys cross-party support.

Although the procedure would not apply to persons whose life is in danger if they are returned to their native countries, or unaccompanied minors, the provisions will empower police officers to refuse entry to most asylum seekers on the border.

Zajovic said Slovenia was trying to imitate recent moves by Hungary, which were unfortunately now being copied by the majority of countries on the "Balkan route", including Croatia, "where we have witnessed a lot of cases in which Croatian police deported refugees to Serbia without proper procedure”.

She explained that people returned to Croatia from Slovenia and Austria usually find illegal ways to resume their journeys after turning to people smugglers.

Zajovic said it was also unclear in terms of international law if border police can seriously assess “if someone’s life is in danger”.

Vedrana Baricevic, from the Zagreb Centre for the Study of Ethnicity, Citizenship and Migration, CEDIM, said it was worrying what kind of measures Croatia could introduce as a reaction to the Slovenian ones.

“What we have experienced along the 'Balkan route' is a sort of a ‘domino effect’; restrictions by one state are soon introduced by others. So, there is a chance for something like that,” she told BIRN.

Baricevic warned that similar policies already exist on the Croatian border, with reports of asylum seekers being rejected by police.

“Although it shouldn’t be so in terms of laws, in practice the police assess individual cases on the border and then a range of peculiar decisions are passed,” she concluded.

Besides tasking the military to patrol the border in October 2015, Slovenia erected a barbed wire fence in November 2015.

The refugee crisis later virtuually ended with the simultaneous closure of borders to most migrants in March 2016.

The proposed Aliens Act amendment will likely be passed by the parliament in Slovenia since both the government parties and the strongest opposition party, the centre-right Slovenian Democratic Party, SDS, have said they will back it.

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjorn Jagland, wrote to the Slovenian Prime Minister, Miro Cerar, on Wednesday, voicing concern that the proposal would cause issues with the European Convention on Human Rights, considering the “right to due process, the consideration of individual circumstances in the processing of applications and protection of all migrants and asylum seekers against ill-treatment”.

Thorbjorn offered the assistance of his special representative on refugees and migration, Tomas Bocek, to help the Slovenian government resolve the matter.

Amnesty International, as well as other human rights NGOs, have also raised concerns regarding the announced law, claiming it strips refugees of their due rights according to international and EU laws.

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