By DARKO BANDIC Associated Press
BIHAC, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — A leading rights group has accused European Union states of complacency in the “systematic, unlawful and frequently violent pushbacks” by Croatian border guards of thousands of asylum-seekers to squalid and unsafe refugee camps in Bosnia.
Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday that “European governments are not just turning a blind eye to vicious assaults by the Croatian police, but also funding their activities.”
The report said that “in doing so, they are fueling a growing humanitarian crisis on the edge of the European Union.”
Croatian authorities have repeatedly denied such reports in the past.
In a response to the Amnesty International report on Wednesday, Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said that the ministry has received more than 200 complaints issued by international rights groups of alleged illegal and violent pushbacks of migrants, but that after investigations no foul play was detected in a single case.
“Migrants in most cases falsely accuse police officials of violence, hoping that this will help them enter the Republic of Croatia the next time they try,” he said in a statement.
In Brussels, European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said that the EU’s executive body is concerned about the allegations made in the report and is taking them very seriously.
“Any form of violence against or abuse of migrants and refugees is unacceptable,” she told reporters, adding that EU is contacting Croatian authorities about the matter.
“The commission expects Croatia to follow up promptly on these specific allegations and we will continue to closely monitor the situation,” Andreeva said.
Thousands of migrants have been stuck in Bosnia as they seek to move on toward Western Europe. Migrants mostly travel illegally with the help of people smugglers.
Currently, around 5,500 women, men and children are trapped in two small Bosnian towns near the Croatian border, Bihac and Velika Kladusa, living in defunct former factories without basic amenities, the Amnesty International report said.
In the Bihac camp, migrants are claiming regular beatings by Croatian border guards.
“They catch us, they steal our phones, they damage them,” Afghan migrant who identified himself as Ajmal told The Associated Press. “Sometimes they take money, sometimes, but not every time. And they also kick us, they take a stick and beat us on our back.”
Vladimir Mitroviski, an international migration organization coordinator in the Bihac camp, said he is hearing a lot of complains by migrants about the treatment they get when caught by the Croatians.
“They claim physical violence by uniformed personnel, but we cannot identify where does this happen.” he said. “We cannot confirm if the uniformed personnel are military police or somebody else. “
The Amnesty International report said people fleeing war and persecution “are beaten and robbed by the Croatian police and forcibly pushed back to legal limbo, left at the mercy of a failing asylum system in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
“In spite of these appalling practices at the border, the European Union has continued to allocate significant funds to assist Croatia in its border security infrastructure. The EU has also willfully ignored the failures of the European asylum system that make these journeys necessary,” the report said.
Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Lorne Cook in Brussels, contributed to this report.