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Council of Europe urges Croatia to probe police abuse allegations

Numerous rights groups have reported on violent pushbacks of migrants, but Croatia denies the allegations.

The Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights has called on Croatia to launch prompt and independent investigations regarding allegations of police violence and theft against refugees and migrants as well as collective expulsions.

In a letter published Friday addressed to Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic wrote that she was "worried" by reports from "expert refugee and migrant organisations that provide consistent and substantiated information about a large number of collective expulsions from Croatia to Serbia and to Bosnia and Herzegovina of irregular migrants, including potential asylum seekers".

Particularly worrisome, Mijatovic wrote, were the allegations of systematic violence by Croatian law enforcement officials against those people, including pregnant women and children.

UNHCR has received reports of some 2,500 migrants being pushed back from Croatia since the beginning of 2018, with 1,500 people being denied access to asylum procedures, including over 100 children.

More than 700 people have reported violence and theft by Croatian officers.

"Concerns in this context have also been expressed by the Croatian Ombudswoman, including in her 2017 Annual report, in which she noted, inter alia, that the authorities had not responded to her requests for information about pending investigations into the allegations of police violence against migrants," Mijatovic wrote. 

Violence carried out by the Croatian police against refugees and migrants has been documented since 2017 by various organisations including Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, No Name Kitchen, UNHCR, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International Slovenia and many others.

However, in a letter also published on Friday, the Croatian Ministry of Interior rejected the Council of Europe’s allegations.

According to Minister of Interior Davor Bozinovic, all reports received by organisations have been examined, but there wasn't enough concrete data for a criminal investigation.

"Up to this point, no cases of coercive means being applied to migrants by police officers have been confirmed. Likewise, the allegations that police officers have committed acts of theft against third-country nationals have not been confirmed either," Bozinovic wrote.

Lydia Gall, researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that HRW welcomed the letter by Commissioner Mijatovic and stated that the rights group has documented numerous cases of violent pushbacks in detail. European Union institutions should make it clear that violent pushbacks contravene EU law, she added.

"No deterrence policy can ever justify acts of indiscriminate violence against migrants and Croatian authorities should ensure these practices stop," Gall said.

"Croatian authorities should also ensure that people are able to exercise their right to seek asylum, regardless of how they entered the country, and have their claims reviewed in a just and fair manner."

Mijatovic reminded Croatia in the letter that all efforts to manage migration should be aligned with international legal principles, including the absolute prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as the prohibition of collective expulsions enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

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