Germany must actively promote the respect of human rights and the rule of law at the EU borders during its EU Council Presidency

You can find a German version here.

More than 700 reports published on the database www.borderviolence.eu document the experiences of a total of more than 7,000 asylum seekers who have been illegally expelled from Croatia in recent years. In many of these so-called pushbacks, the persons concerned were deported from the EU to Serbia or Bosnia-Herzegovina even across several national borders. In 80% of the cases there are indications of disproportionate use of force up to cases of torture by Croatian officials and 38% of those affected are minors. For thousands of people seeking protection, who want to continue their refuge to Western and Central Europe via Greece, the Balkan region represents a politically intended impasse.

Mistreatment by Croatian police

The mistreatment by Croatian border police officers is becoming increasingly extreme. At the beginning of June 2020, Amnesty International reported on Croatian police officers who, laughing, smeared ketchup and mayonnaise into the head wounds they had inflicted on asylum seekers. The transit group were tied up, beaten repeatedly and then had to drag themselves back to Bosnia, wounded. Such torture and the near impossibility of applying for asylum in Croatia have now become normal for the protection of EU borders, a hallmark of the brutal externalization remit that German now assumes with its Council Presidency.

Pushbacks during Covid-19

The systematic nature of these pushbacks did not stop at the infection control measures required by Covid-19: Despite the border closures and contact restrictions, pushbacks across several national borders continued to be part of the daily routine of the Croatian authorities. The fact that those seeking protection were taken to overcrowded, quarantined camps in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia played just as little a role as the potential risk of infection from Croatian police officers. Covid-19 infections in a hotel near the border region in Topusko, inhabited by about 200 officers, were not followed up, although the officers were in daily contact with asylum seekers in pushback operations. The infection of vulnerable persons seeking protection and the spread of the virus without the possibility of tracing chains of infection are accepted with approval.

Despite numerous media and NGO reports proving the contrary, the Croatian government has for years vehemently denied the existence of the illegal pushbacks, for example the Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković at the start of the Croatian EU Presidency in the EU Parliament in January 2020 or the Croatian Minister of the Interior in reaction to a critical article by the British newspaper “The Guardian”, which was published in May 2020.

Investigations by the European Commission or the initiation of an infringement procedure have so far failed to materialise, although this is precisely what the Commission, as “guardian of the Treaties”, would have been required to do. Instead, Brussels gave Croatia the green light to join Schengen despite – or perhaps because of – these human rights violations. The required standards for border protection are largely financed by EU funds, most recently with an additional €6.8 million. And although the establishment of a monitoring mechanism was obligatory for the disbursement of the money, the European Commission not only ignored its absence but actively covered it up.

The role of Germany

The Federal Government denies having any knowledge of the systematic human rights violations committed by the Croatian police and refers to the competence of the European Commission. In 2018, Chancellor Angela Merkel even praised the actions of the Croatian security forces as “outstanding work” and in January 2020, Interior Minister Seehofer donated surveillance equipment for border protection to Croatia. Other German politicians, too, have in the past repeatedly commented positively on the security policy developments in Croatia and advocated accession to the Schengen Agreement. Additionally, Germany is participating in Frontex training missions for Croatian border guards, most recently in December 2019 in Sankt Augustin and in February 2020 in Valbandon in Croatia. All this legitimises the Croatian approach and even led to the Croatian Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović describing Germany as an appreciative partner in border management.

The brutal approach at Croatia’s borders is not a national phenomenon but the implementation of an EU refugee and migration policy based on violence and deterrence. Five years after the “March of Hope” from Budapest, the undersigned human rights organisations and activist groups call on the Federal Government to work during Germany’s EU Council Presidency for an end to violence against people seeking protection and the respect of the law at the EU’s external borders, and to no longer support and tolerate the massive and well-documented human rights violations.

Demands

  • Asylum seekers in the Western Balkans region must not be forgotten. Their right to asylum in the EU must be guaranteed.
  • The border practices of Croatia in violation of human rights must be named as such and clearly condemned by the Federal Government. Any material support of the Croatian border police by the Federal Government must be stopped.
  • The violence must stop. As a “mediator” between the institutions, Germany must use its Presidency of the Council to encourage the European Parliament’s efforts and support an infringement procedure against Croatia in view of the systematic pushbacks.
  • Under the Presidency, the disbursement of EU funding for border management and deployment of Frontex missions should be withdrawn from all borders where EU resources and personnel have been complicit within riots violations against people-on-the-move. This includes among others Croatia, Greece, Albania
  • In addition, in the current discussion on the evacuation of hotspots on the Aegean islands, the Western Balkans region should be seen as part of the wider problem of the failed EU-Turkey deal and the Dublin-III Regulation, and the resettlement of refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia should be considered.

Signatories from the Border Violence Monitroing Network*

*The Border Violence Monitoring Network is a watchdog network consisting of various NGOs. Since December 2017, the website www.borderviolence.eu has been documenting push-backs and police violence at the EU’s external borders in the Balkans with the aim of showing the system behind the individual cases and exerting pressure on the responsible actors.

 

Co-Signatories: