One more step on the path of human rights violations – Croatia joins the Schengen zone

On Monday, 19 December 2022, police officers illegally entered the premises of the environmental protection association Zelena akcija in Zagreb under the guise of inquiring about migrants as part of an ongoing investigation. Zelena akcija, the Centre for Peace Studies and Gong demand a proper investigation into the unacceptable actions and gross misuse of power by the police. The Centre for Peace Studies pointed out that this is merely the latest in a series of situations involving improper police conduct, referring to altercations with football fans and other citizens, as well as refugees and other migrants on Croatian borders.

Following on from the conduct of the Croatian police towards refugees and other migrants, the Border Violence Monitoring Network has published an updated edition of the Black Book of Pushbacks consisting of more than 3,000 pages filled with testimonies from refugees and other migrants who were beaten, kicked, insulted, humiliated and arbitrarily detained before being illegally pushed back from Croatian territory and the territory of EU Member States. This edition only further supports the existence of a systemic and coordinated effort by EU Member States focused on illegal pushbacks from EU territory, frequently involving violence and serious criminal offences

More than two months after the Centre for Peace Studies and the House of Human Rights submitted their recommendations for the execution of the judgment in the case of the Hussiny family,  Croatia finally submitted its action plan, which unfortunately, does not demonstrate an understanding of the seriousness and systematic nature of the problem of human rights violations at Croatian borders. In December 2022, Lighthouse Reports reported on cases where refugees and other migrants, some of whom were asylum seekers, were being detained in Croatian police vans. According to the statements and video recordings, more than 20 people were detained in the heat in vehicles accommodating a maximum of 8 people.

Lighthouse Reports also published a video of border police shooting at a Syrian refugee at the Bulgaria-Turkey border demonstrating yet again the consequences of the border protection policy of the European Union.

The consequences of such a policy, as well as the lack of safe and regular routes for refugees and migrants, lead to the increasing strengthening of smuggling networks. In that vein, an armed conflict between smuggling groups recently arose in Horgoš, near the Hungary-Serbia border crossing, where police detained refugees and migrants with no criminal connections. The Centre for Development of Social Policies Klikaktiv pointed out that the inability to come to the EU leads to a host of problems, such as prostitution involving women and underage boys, forced labour and other indignities people are forced into in order to afford to come to the EU. Finally, we witnessed another consequence of the lack of safe and regular routes on 17 December 2022, when members of the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service saved ten foreign nationals who nearly drowned in the cold waters of the Sava river.

Despite numerous reports, media articles, recordings, testimonies and statements about the systematic violation of human rights at Croatian borders, the inadequate system of identifying and sanctioning perpetrators of criminal offenses against foreign nationals, evidenced by the fact that only four victims of human trafficking who are foreign nationals were identified in 2022, Croatia is set to join the Schengen zone from 1 January 2023.

Several organizations have sent a letter to the authorities of the European Union warning that the proposed Regulation on artificial intelligence must take into account and protect people on the move. The letter contains proposals for amendments to the regulation in order to prohibit the unacceptable use of artificial intelligence in the context of migration and to ensure the protection of human rights, regardless of the regularity of their residence status in the EU.

The Croatian state secretary associated with numerous incidents related to the topic of asylum and migration failed to become the head of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX), as Hans Leijtens, Commander of the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, was appointed as the new Executive Director. The new director will have to face numerous accusations of improper conduct by FRONTEX, as well as the latest accusation that the European Union is violating international law due to FRONTEX allegedly conducting aerial surveillance using drones and sharing the information on the locations of boats transporting migrants with Libya, based on which Libya undertakes activities to intercept and stop refugees and other migrants on their way to the EU.

London’s High Court upheld the lawfulness of the policy to deport asylum seekers from the United Kingdom to Rwanda despite strong objection by UNHCR, which considers that the arrangement contravenes the UK’s international obligations. On the other hand, EU Member States are increasingly implementing the voluntary solidarity mechanism, with 48 applicants for international protection transferred from Cyprus to Germany based on the relocation scheme under the voluntary solidarity mechanism established in June 2022 between 21 EU Member States to ease the burden on Member States on the external borders of the EU.

Finally, we would like to mention the first national conference on the promotion of the rights of migrants and refugees in Croatia held on 7 December 2022, organised and led by migrant and refugee activists as well as human rights advocates and experts on the topic of integration. Additionally, the Reception Centre for Applicants for International Protection in Kutina was reopened in November 2022 after more than a year of being closed due to renovations.

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