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News 20 Dec 17

Serbia, Croatia Face Lawsuits Over Migrant Girl's Death

After a Croatian NGO filed a lawsuit over the death of a six-year-old Afghan girl who died close to the Serbia-Croatia border, Serbian authorities may face similar legal action.

Maja Zivanovic
BIRN
Belgrade

Lost child toy on the Serbian, Croatian border on the Balkan route. Photo: BIRN/Maja Zivanovic

The Asylum Protection Centre, an NGO in Serbia, has told BIRN it is considering launching a lawsuit against Serbia over the death of Medina Husein, an Afghan migrant who lost her life, aged six, near the Serbia-Croatia border earlier in November.

“Institutions are treating this case [the death] as if it were not a child but some kind of less worthy being. This case is one sad fate – a child with a name and surname, and we want the truth,” Rados Djurovic, from the Asylum Protection Centre, told BIRN.

Croatia's Center for Peace Studies, which works in partnership with the Serbian NGO, on Tuesday said Medina’s family was launching a court case against unknown police officers in the country.

Both organisations have decided to legally represent the family in order to clarify all the circumstances of Medina’s death.

Medina was killed on November 21 when she was hit by a passing train near the border town Sid in Serbia.

This incident shocked the international medical humanitarian organisation, Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF, which posted on Twitter on November 22: “Yet another totally preventable death on the 'closed' Balkan Road. A 6 y/o [years old] kid was hit by a train last night after the family was pushed back from #Croatia”.

The Croatian Center for Peace Studies said that before the tragedy occurred, the Afghan family had already reached Croatia and had asked for asylum.

“But the police, violating their right to access to international protection, returned them to the railway and sent them back to Serbia,” it said.

The lawyer for the family, Sanja Bezbradica Jelavic, said the family with six children had requested Croatian protection and asylum, but police “refused to act according to regulations.

“The family was instructed to return to Serbia by night in the direction of the railway line. They [police] refused the mother's request to stay overnight with the children because the children were tired and cold, which resulted in a fatal consequence,” a written statement of the lawyer said.

Djurovic said his NGO was still awaiting answers to questions about the incident, sent two weeks ago to the Serbian border police.

The family told Aljazeera on December 6 that Serbian authorities waited four days to confirm their young relative's death and had provided them with just four bottles of water to perform Muslim funeral rites.

“Despite the wish of her family, who wanted to bury Medina in Belgrade, the Serbian authorities decided to bury her in Sid,” Djurovic said, adding that the Serbian authorities also provided no documentation after the death of their daughter.

He added that the Serbian Asylum Protection Centre and the Croatian Center for Peace Studies wanted to know why refugees were still being illegally pushed back to Serbia; data from his NGO show that thousands of people have been pushed back to Serbia across its borders with other Balkan countries.

Serbian and Croatian NGOs also sent a message to Medina's family, in which they said they were not only pressing the charges on their behalf, but for “all children and all others who are in a similar situation, so that such a tragedy never happens again”.

According to Aljazeera, Croatia's interior ministry confirmed the death, describing it as "regrettable" but denying that Croatian border police were responsible. The government says the family returned to Serbia voluntarily.

Serbia's Commissariat for Refugees and Migration told BIRN that it had provided a grave site and a funeral for the girl, and that all other questions regarding the incident should be sent to the Serbian Interior Ministry, which did not reply by the time of publication.

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