Today, new video footage published by journalists from the Swiss media outlet SRF shows Croatian authorities engaged in the process of a collective expulsion. This video further increases the burden of proof against Croatian authorities who continue to deny their involvement in these illegal actions. This footage compliments previous video footage published in December by BVM demonstrating 54 collective expulsions, so-called push-backs, along the Croatian-Bosnian border.
In this new footage, 30 individuals heavily loaded with backpacks and blankets, escorted by several Croatian police officers can be seen as they pass a border-marker between Croatia and Bosnia, near Gradina (BiH). Over the course of two days, the journalists filmed four push-backs at this location, witnessing the return of around 70 individuals. Not only men, but also women and small children, can be seen as they are subjected to this unlawful behavior, far away from any official border crossing. In interviews conducted after the push-backs, the affected individuals describe Croatian officers ignoring their asylum claims, destroying their phones, stealing their money, threatening them, and forcing them towards the border as they were beaten with batons.
The push-backs that can be seen in the SRF footage do not follow formal return procedures and cannot be justified within the 2007 readmission agreement between the EU and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The only legal way to return people is through a readmission process at an official border crossing, after a readmission application had been made to Bosnian authorities.
In failing to comply with these procedures, the Croatian authorities violated international law, most glaringly the prohibition of collective expulsions laid down in Article 4 of the Fourth Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Similarly, the right to asylum, as agreed in the Geneva Convention on Refugees and Article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, is disregarded.
These reports are consistent with previous documentation published by Border Violence Monitoring and several other NGOs that have been monitoring the situation along the EU’s external border with Bosnia-Herzegovina since the spring of 2018. Around 500 reports on BVM’s database provide testimony to the illegal practice of collective expulsions, which are often accompanied by violence. Not relegated to Croatia, reports of border violence and collective expulsions perpetrated by EU authorities extend throughout the Western Balkans. No Name Kitchen, Border Violence Monitoring, [Re:]ports Sarajevo and Escuela con Alma recently published a common report summarizing current developments on pushbacks and border violence in the region.
In reaction to the SRF publication, the Croatian Ministry of the Interior (MOI) attempted to justify itself by claiming that the videos do not show expulsions but rather refusals of entry, which are legal in accordance with Article 13 of the Schengen Borders Code. That being said, the MOI’s legal interpretation stands on shaky ground. Since Croatia is not a member state of the Schengen area and moreover, since the Schengen Borders Code cannot stand above human rights, (as stipulated for example in the European Convention on Human Rights) these justifications do not retain much weight.
While the evidence contained within this video may be compelling, the allegations are not new. Collective expulsions and border violence has been documented consistently along Croatia’s border with Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nonetheless, the Croatian state continues to deny these allegations with political cover provide by politicians in powerful EU countries like Germany – Bavaria’s Minister of the Interior in Joachim Herrmann recently praised Croatian authorities for “doing a good job to protect the EU’s external border“. As long as these allegations are not addressed properly, illegal procedures and violence will continue along Croatia’s borders.