Recent reports by humanitarian groups and the media paint a gruesome picture of abuse on Croatia’s border with Bosnia-Herzegovina. Photos show injuries consistent with beatings by police batons. Testimonies from migrants and asylum seekers speak of sexual abuse, violence, humiliation and robbery.
These harrowing stories are consistent with what I documented when I interviewed dozens of migrants brutally pushed back from Croatia to Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina between 2015 and 2019.
The vast majority of people I talked to then, including women and children, told me that persons they identified as Croatian police beat them, stole or destroyed belongings including bags, clothes, money and phones. Some said they were forced to undress, dumped in the forest, and left on their own in the middle of nowhere. Some were forced to cross freezing streams in the middle of winter.
Human rights groups are not the only ones denouncing this sickening treatment of migrants. Last week, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic expressed concerns about the reports of violence and pushbacks.
But Croatian authorities have repeatedly denied allegations of both pushbacks and violence by border officials.
Last week, EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson tweeted that she is “taking these reports very seriously.” But as thousands of migrants have suffered abuse for years at the hands of Croatian border officials, the question remains why the EU Commission has turned a blind eye for so long despite this growing body of evidence. Two years ago, the Commission even gave money to Croatia to set up a fundamental rights mechanism that never saw the light of day.
In its recent Pact on Migration, the EU Commission proposes that EU members set up border monitoring mechanisms to prevent abuses at borders. But Croatia’s example shows how Commission’s proposal of monitoring alone lacks teeth. To be effective, such a mechanism should be the tripwire to hold those responsible to account, including political consequences for states like Croatia that tolerate agents brutalizing migrants.
More urgently, the Commission should put Zagreb on notice and trigger legal action for breaching EU asylum law and condition border management funding to human rights compliance. Too many people have suffered unacceptable abuse for the EU to continue to look the other way.