Croatia: UN calls for end to police deportation of migrants

The United Nations reports that Croatian police continue to push back migrants crossing the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina on their way to Western European countries.

The UN mission in BiH called for urgent action to end the violent deportation and collective deportation of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, including minors, along the Croatian border with BiH.

According to a report, on 2 April 2021 KB and NGO teams encountered a group of 50 men walking near the official border crossing with Croatia towards the town of Bihać in the Una-Sana Canton. The men were visibly tired, in need of clothes and shoes, and had wounds on their bodies. UN emergency teams provided food, clothing, shoes and hygiene items, while NGO medical teams provided emergency medical assistance to 25 of them.

The men stated that while crossing the border, they had taken their belongings, including their mobile phones and money, and beaten them with wooden sticks and forcibly returned to BiH territory.

This is not the first time the international community has reacted to similar phenomena. A few months ago, Croatian authorities came under fire after some migrants were pushed back into BiH with injuries. They said the police had caught them, they were beaten and had to hand over all their belongings to the officers. Photographs at the time show migrants having cross-shaped wounds on their heads.

The UN recalls that deportations and collective deportations are prohibited under international and EU law, condemning in the strongest terms the use of violence against migrants, asylum seekers and refugees at any border. “We urge the States concerned to investigate the incident which took place on 2 April and to ensure that all perpetrators are properly sanctioned.”

This alarming and recurring situation underscores the need for improved migration and asylum policy and governance, but also for human rights and integrated rights-based practices to be implemented, not least during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent years, Bosnia and Herzegovina has seen a significant increase in mixed migration movements, with over 70,000 people entering the country since 2017 and with over 4,000 people currently housed in official reception facilities. Meanwhile, about 1700 people live outside these facilities. In violation of the prohibition of collective expulsion, reports of migrants leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina have been reported regularly, including families with children. In 2020, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants expressed deep concern about the ‘repeated and persistent use of force against migrants in repatriation operations’.

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