After the fortification of the Hungarian border, more and more people are trying to cross into Croatia by hiding in or under trains or walking through the forest in the border area.
The number of collective expulsions is increasing, with many allegedly having been denied access to asylum procedures and being maltreated when pushed back to Serbia or Bosnia. Our teams on the ground have been observing an increase in violence against refugees on the Croatian side since spring 2017, which reinforces the suspicion that these “proceedings” are part of a systematic deterrence strategy. Spreading fear of becoming a victim of violence is supposed to deter people attempting a border crossing and to destroy their hope of success.
Since the beginning of our documentation in May 2017, big international organizations like UNHCR, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have denounced the disproportionate use of force by Croatian authorities during group expulsions , just as Médecins Sans Frontières who warned of a recent dramatic increase in violence, referring to the same patterns we have been documenting, with police “hitting with batons, destroying cell phones, snatching money” . In some cases, asylum requests were explicitly denied by police officers who continued to deport applicants back to Serbia or Bosnia. When confronted with these issues, Croatia’s Ministry of Interior rejected all allegations and stated that the “Ministry has not received information on police violence against migrants” .
Especially in the last months we have been documenting plenty of cases that raise the suspicion that the Croatian border police is cooperating with the Slovenian police, handing over people to Croatian officers who deport them back to Serbia or Bosnia and Herzegovina, without taking intentions to claim asylum in one of the two countries into account. Officers force people to pay fees for entering the country illegally or make them sign papers in languages they don’t speak, which is against the EU directives of asylum procedures . In Serbia, many reports describe how those who cannot pay are incarcerated for up to two weeks.