In the first six months of 2022, Croatia granted asylum seekers international protection only 16 times

Turkish President Erdogan, known globally for using repressive methods, visited Croatia last week. Under Erdogan’s policy, Turkey is an extremely unsafe country for human rights defenders, women, Kurds, LGBT+ people and many others, which is also recognised in Croatia, with its refusal to extradite people like Başak Şahin Duman, Vicdan Sahin Özerdem, Nurettin Oral and Murat Catulay to Turkey after requests from NGOs and lawyers. Regardless, the Government and the President of the Republic of Croatia met with Erdogan in Zagreb and in doing so restricted the freedom of movement of the citizens of Zagreb with a large amount of weapons, armoured vehicles and security personnel.

The day after Erdogan’s visit, the centre of Zagreb was plastered with homophobic and xenophobic posters by unknown persons. One of the posters reads “Let’s accept migrants together – Welcome new Croats”, and below that is a crossed-out photo of an apparently white girl and two other photos showing groups of non-white men protesting.

The European Union Asylum Agency (EUAA) reported that EU+ countries (EU, UK, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Turkey and Serbia) received around 406,000 asylum applications in the first half of 2022, up by two thirds (68%) compared to the same period in 2021. According data from Eurostat – Statistical Office of the European Union, Croatia is also following this trend with 2,955 requests for international protection submitted between January and June 2022 and 1,090 applications pending as of June 2022. Although Eurostat reports an increase in the number of approved applications for international protections, in Croatia by the end of June 2022, only 16 people were approved international protection. On the other hand, of the 21,735 displaced persons from Ukraine who arrived in the Republic of Croatia by the end of July 2022, 16,175 of them received approval for temporary protection.

Klikaktiv – Centre for Development of Social Policies reported that in the period from April to June 2022, they continued to observe pushbacks by Croatian police officers on the border with Serbia. Croatian police used physical violence against those who tried to cross the border (kicking, beatings with batons and hands) and took away their money and mobile phones. According to the testimonies recorded by Klikaktiv, the victims of such treatment stated that the Croatian police handed them over to the Serbian police, who then released them or drove them to a forest area from where they had to walk for more than two hours to return to Šid.

The same practice is also recorded by the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), who reported on the same treatment at the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, stating that “trends in border violence in Bihać became more violent in June 2022”, describing examples of serious injuries and the use of pepper spray. The same report also describes the actions of the Croatian and Slovenian police in connection with which a child refugee reported Croatia and Slovenia for violating the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Pushbacks, ignoring requests for asylum or international protection, and police violence are potentially the reasons why, according to the data of the Office for Foreigners in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the number of migrants trying to reach the countries of the European Union using the so-called Balkan route decreased in 2022.

According to a text written by activist and researcher Matthias Monroy, the Croatian police are supported in their actions, among other things, by Germany, who provides resources to Croatia in the form of training and equipment (license plate scanners, thermal imaging cameras and vehicles). Germany was also shocked last month by the news that police officers participated in the murder of a minor refugee, in connection with which five officers are being investigated and disciplinary proceedings have been initiated immediately.

Despite continuous practices of police violence and violations of human rights on Croatian borders, as part of its presidency of the Council of the European Union, Czechia has invited the Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia and the Ministers of Bulgaria and Romania to a meeting on September 13 to discuss their accession to the Schengen area in accordance with Czechia’s stated ambition to speed up the accession process. Considering the priorities of Czechia, there is a great possibility that the European Parliament will vote on Croatia’s accession to the Schengen Area as early as this year. The Czech First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior announced the Presidency is ready to start negotiations on the proposal for a regulation on the introduction of in-depth checks on citizens of third countries at external borders  (so-called Screening Regulation) as well as a regulation on the Eurodac database. We remind you that the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), an alliance of organisations of which the Centre for Peace Studies is a member, as early as 2020, called for the withdrawal of this proposed regulation apart from those provisions related to the establishment of an independent border control mechanism. This regulation, which would introduce in-depth checks before entering the EU territory, delays access to fundamental human rights and increases operational costs, while at the same time it does not provide solutions to existing challenges and problems in the field of migration.

At the European level, it is important to point out that despite heavy criticism regarding the externalisation of the European Union’s asylum system and the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to stop the transfer of asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda, Denmark continues to invest efforts in the establishment of a centre for asylum seekers outside the EU and has signed an agreement with Rwanda in this regard.

Finally, the Office of the Government of the Republic of Croatia for Human Rights and the Rights of National Minorities created an informative video discussing the importance of the successful integration of persons who have been granted international protection, and mentioning, among other things, the shortcomings of the integration system in Croatia. Given the correct conclusion that “integration and inclusion are key for all newcomers, for local communities and for the long-term well-being of our societies as well as the stability of our economy”, as well as identifying numerous problems and challenges faced by asylum seekers, persons under protection and other foreign nationals in the process of integration, which the Government can act on, we end this report with the hope that this is an indicator that the Government of the Republic of Croatia will really start solving the problems and challenges shown in the video and that it will accordingly adopt an action plan for integration, which it has failed to do for several years now.

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