Laila fled Afghanistan with her parents and two brothers in 2016, when she was 11 or 12 years old. They travelled westward, eventually reaching Bosnia and Herzegovina in early 2021. They then tried to enter Croatia, requesting asylum.
Croatian police ignored their request and forced them back over the border.
The police ordered them to wade across a frontier river at night, far from any town or populated area. Police smashed their phones, so they had no easy way of navigating to safety.
The family stumbled along till they found a road and walked 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) to the nearest town in Bosnia.
Others have faced even worse treatment. Croatian pushbacks often include serious violence and humiliation. Their methods are so awful, they violate international prohibitions on torture.
Let’s get one thing straight: Laila and her family are doing nothing wrong.
Everyone seeking international protection has the right to apply for asylum abroad and have their case heard before the appropriate authorities. So says the international Refugee Convention, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and a pile of other laws and agreements.
True, Croatia’s abuses are not the beginning of this story. Laila’s family first sought international protection in Iran, then Turkey, and then Croatia’s fellow EU member Greece. They left each country after authorities there also failed to respond to their requests for international protection.
Croatia’s treatment of asylum seekers is another link in a chain of state lawlessness and inhumanity that stretches thousands of kilometers, from areas of extreme instability to the gates of the EU and beyond.
The EU and its member state governments are deeply embedded in this illegality, as we’ve highlighted many times in this newsletter. Recall the EU’s “let them die policy” in the Mediterranean, several member states criminalizing saving lives at sea, and the EU’s complicity in torture in Libya.
It continues in Croatia, where substantial EU funds for border management are doled out despite Croatia’s repeated abuses and failures to comply with EU law.
Founded on respect for democracy and human rights, the European Union is supposed to be better than this. Sadly, it is not.