The global human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday sent an open letter to Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic calling on Croatia to “immediately stop summarily returning migrants and asylum seekers to Bosnia and Herzegovina, in some cases with force.”
“Zagreb needs to put an end to unlawful pushbacks and violence against migrants at its borders,” Lydia Gall, senior researcher for Balkans and the Eastern European Union (EU) at Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying.
“Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental and intergovernmental organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Council of Europe (COE), have regularly reported on and raised concerns about pushbacks and violence by Croatian border officials at Croatia’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina,” the HRW says in its report.
“Croatian authorities had denied the allegations, in some cases with smears of the groups and victims.”
“Since July 2018, the European Coast Guard and Border Agency, commonly known as Frontex, has had a presence on the Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina border through a Multipurpose Aerial Surveillance (MAS) system, meaning daily aerial patrols along the border and border area to detect irregularities. One of the priorities of the Frontex operation is to detect human rights violations and summary returns.
“But in late May, Frontex told Human Rights Watch that it had not detected any human rights violations or pushbacks., the NGO says.
The HRW says in its statement that President Grabar-Kitarovic’s “recent admission during an interview on Swiss television that Croatian officials are engaged in these pushbacks triggers a responsibility by Croatian authorities to investigate and to hold those responsible for any unlawful action to account”.
The HRW holds that the Croatian president’s statement calls into question the effectiveness of Frontex’s mission and the extent to which it is capable of fulfilling its mandate to protect human rights while engaged in border control efforts.
“The summary return of asylum seekers without consideration of their protection needs is contrary to EU asylum law, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the 1951 Refugee Convention,” the human rights watchdog says.