Over the past year, many migrants trying to cross into the EU through unofficial border crossings between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have reported brutal treatment by Croatian border police. In a recent TV interview, the Croatian president admitted border guards were forcing migrants back over the border.
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. Croatian authorities had denied the allegations, in some cases with smears of the groups and victims.
“Zagreb needs to put an end to unlawful pushbacks and violence against migrants at its borders,” said Lydia Gall, senior researcher for Balkans and the Eastern European Union (EU) at Human Rights Watch. “Croatian border officials have mistreated hundreds, perhaps thousands, of migrants and asylum seekers, who deserve redress and justice.”
Human Rights Watch found in a December 2018 report that Croatian border officials apprehend migrants far inside Croatian territory, and without due process push them back into Bosnia and Herzegovina. In some cases, they use force, pummeling people with fists, kicking them, and making people cross freezing streams, and run gauntlets between police officers. Violence is directed against women and children in some cases.
The government denied all allegations of summary returns and violence. In a separate May 20 meeting with the Interior Ministry, the state secretary said that the people Human Rights Watch interviewed had fabricated their accounts and accused activists of impersonating Croatian police officers to make them look bad.
As a result of the 2016 border closures on the Western Balkan route, thousands of asylum seekers were stranded, the majority in Serbia, and found new routes toward the EU. In 2018, migrant and asylum seeker arrivals increased in Bosnia and Herzegovina, from fewer than 1,000 in 2017 to approximately 22,400, according to the European Commission. The Commission estimates that 6,000 migrants and asylum seekers are currently in the country. Bosnia and Herzegovina has granted international protection to only 17 people since 2008. In 2017, 381 people applied for asylum there.