SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CN) — Omar Dyab, a 33-year-old Syrian war refugee, shook his head. “Police in Croatia, Mafia,” he said with distaste. Dusk was settling over Sarajevo, the war-scarred capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina ringed by mountains, and shadows grew around the bleak central train station where Dyab and fellow Syrians seeking entry into Europe camped on the pavement.
The refugee talked of theft and rough, illegal treatment at the hands of Croatian police, who allegedly have beaten and stolen money from scores of migrants and refugees like Dyab.
Croatian police, according to asylum-seekers and humanitarian groups, are acting with brutal impunity as heavy-handed gatekeepers of a Europe gripped by fear of terrorism and anti-immigrant nationalism.
Croatian authorities deny the allegations.
Dyab, who’s from Damascus, Syria, told a Courthouse News Service reporter that he tried to cross into Europe from Bosnia via Croatia earlier in August near a city called Bihać. Bosnia-Herzegovina is not part of the European Union, but Croatia is.
When he and other Syrians were caught, they were arrested by Croatian police; then, he said, they damaged his smartphone and took €1,200 hidden in his waistband. He and the others were hit with batons. Another man, he said, had €5,000 stolen by police and one man’s passport was torn apart.
Dyab's story is far from unique. There have been more than 200 reports of alleged abuse —beatings, including of children, intimidation and theft —border police in Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia in the past two years, according to nongovernment groups monitoring border violence. Incidents are reported online at www.borderviolence.eu. On the website, migrants are seen displaying and reporting bruises, cuts and broken teeth.
Last November, a 6-year-old Afghan girl was killed after Croatian police forced her family to return to Serbia by walking along train tracks at night. The girl was struck by a train, according to news reports and Marc Pratllusà, a volunteer with No Name Kitchen, a group helping migrants in Bosnia and Serbia. Pratllusà said thousands of migrants have been abused.
“A lot of governments around here have a policy to not allow people across their borders,” said Lydia Gall, a Human Rights Watch researcher based in Hungary, in a telephone interview. “These push-backs are going on and they are going on at various borders.”
Gall said recent reports of violence at the Croatian-Bosnian border echo what she found two years ago investigating accounts of abuse by police along the Croatian-Serbian border.
She said EU reticence on border violence is encouraging police forces to continue illegal policies to violently push asylum seekers back.
“EU institutions have remained eerily silent,” she said.
Tove Ernst, a spokeswoman for the EU Commission, said the EU was aware of the allegations and was in touch with Croatia about them.
“While the commission will continue to monitor the situation, we trust that Croatia will follow up on the specific allegations,” she said in an email.
Croatia became an EU member in July 2013. Croatia and Slovenia are the only nations of the former Yugoslavia that have been added to the EU.