18:43 / 07.10.2021.

Author: Katja Miličić

Croatia will investigate allegations of violent pushbacks at the border

Migrants

Migrants

Foto: - / HRT

Croatian officials said on Thursday they will investigate allegations of violent pushbacks of migrants by Croatian police. 

The probe is being launched after a team of international journalists released the findings of their investigation, including video recorded in June showing men in balaclavas hitting migrants with police batons and pushing the group back into Bosnia and Herzegovina. The men in the video appear to be wearing unmarked police uniforms, the kind worn by Croatian police.


Violent pushbacks against asylum-seekers and migrants are illegal in the EU. Non-governmental organizations have been warning for several years that Croatian police were beating up migrants that crossed the border into Croatia illegally and sending them back without any record of the events. These groups have repeatedly accused the government of not reacting to the reports.


Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said he immediately contacted the Ministry of the Interior demanding an investigation.


"I asked that all necessary measures be taken within the Ministry and the Police to begin an investigation to see what this is all about so that we can take the appropriate steps because Croatia, as an orderly country that abides by domestic and international laws, does not want to tolerate any behavior that could be likened to countries that do not reflect our legal system," Plenković said.


Interior Minister Davor Božinović said that officers’ overstepping their authority was not tolerated in the police force but that there must be proof of these transgressions. He's confident Croatian police are not breaking any laws.


"I firmly stand by belief that everything that is being done is in line with Croatian and international laws,” Božinović said, adding that the ministry and police take disciplinary action against around 400 of their members annually for various violations.


“No one has been ordered to use force except in cases where the law permits it," he said.


The European Commission has called for an investigation into illegal migrant pushbacks after the report, which also documented what the journalists said were Greek, Croatian and Romanian officials carrying out such operations.


"Some of these reports are shocking and I am extremely concerned about the reports that have been recently published. Of course this need to be investigated but there seems to be some kind of orchestration of violence at our external borders and there seems to be convincing evidence of misuse of EU funds," said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.


Johansson said she was due to meet with the interior ministers of Greece and Croatia late Thursday to address the matter.


SDP MP Nikša Vukas, the chairman of the Internal Policy and National Security Committee in the Croatian Parliament, says the reports are alarming.


"This kind of behavior towards anyone must not be tolerated," he said.


Vukas added that he expected the Interior Ministry and Police to determine the facts and to release their findings to the public. The committee can then assess whether there are grounds to take up the matter, he said.

Opposition MP Sandra Benčić of We Can! agreed this is a serious problem.


"I think it is time for Minister Božinović and the Prime Minister to explain what is going on at Croatia's border and to take responsibility for it," Benčić said, adding that the public should question if they wanted to live in a country that had “bands of masked paramilitaries” roaming the countryside.


MP Hrvoje Zekanović of the hard-right Sovereigntists is more concerned that people are crossing into the country illegally. He did acknowledge that police beating up anyone was inexcusable.


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