The European Commission has said it is seeking assurances from Croatia and Bosnia on the safety of migrants passing through their territory in response to a query from 22 MEPs after reports emerged of violent attacks perpetrated by Croatian police and harsh living conditions in Bosnia.
Last September MEPs sent a letter to the Commission asking what action it had taken in response to the difficult conditions of migrants entering Bosnia Herzegovina, a country that according to data published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) saw an influx flow of 21,584 people in 2018, hundreds of whom are concentrated in the area facing the border with Croatia.
In the letter, the MEPs asked if the Commission was “monitoring…the use of European funds granted to Bosnia Herzegovina for assistance to migrants and the guarantee of adequate reception facilities, including the 1.5 million and 6 million euro allocated in June and in August”.
With regards to the reports of violence being perpetrated by the Croatian police on migrants crossing the border, the parliamentarians wanted to know what measures were being taken to verify the allegations. They also asked how the Commission intended to ensure that the migrants’ fundamental rights were being respected, including the right to seek asylum in the EU and whether the European border guard was present on the border between Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina.
Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos gave his response on behalf of the Commission today.
“The EU has promptly responded to the request for support from the BiH (Bosnia and Herzegovina) authorities to address current developments in the migratory situation. Since June 2018, the Commission has provided €2 million in humanitarian aid to address the immediate needs of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, regarding emergency housing, water and sanitation, food and non-food, health care and protection.
In August 2018 the Commission allocated €7.2 million to increase the identification, registration and protection capabilities of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, to provide adequate housing and basic services for the winter period, and to support police on the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Implementation of the plan began in October 2018.
The authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been urged to identify and to promptly arrange places with adequate housing in the Una-Sana Canton. These places must guarantee appropriate conditions. From the end of July 2018, with EU aid, families and unaccompanied minors are staying at the former Sedra hotel in Cazin. Other places to be used for housing are under consideration.
The EU Delegation and the relevant Commission services closely monitor the implementation of EU assistance and the situation of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Commission is in contact with Croatia regarding the implementation of the Common European Asylum System, including in relation to allegations of ill-treatment of third-country nationals and the lack of possibilities to seek asylum.
The Commission expects Croatia to follow up on this issue. The Commission will continue to monitor the situation closely, including by maintaining contacts with local authorities.
Negotiations on the status agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina for sending teams from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (ECBGA) to the country along the Croatian border have now been concluded. This status agreement has yet to be signed by both parties before the sending of ECBGA teams to the border with Croatia can take place.”
In December, video footage emerged of Croatian police apparently marching migrants back over the border into Bosnia to prevent them seeking asylum in the EU. This followed months of reports from NGOs and human rights organisations of physical abuse of migrants by Croatian police in an effort to deter them from entering the country.
In November, a Guardian investigation found that of 50 people, mostly from Pakistan, to whom the its reporters spoke, 35 said they had been attacked by Croatian police then returned over the border to Bosnia.
Speaking to the Guardian, András Léderer, the information and advocacy officer for the human rights group the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, said returning people across the green border without due procedure was “definitely not in accordance with the Schengen acquis”.
“These practices breach the prohibition of collective expulsion, enshrined in article 4 of protocol 4 of the European convention on human rights, and might even pose security risks to the EU,” Léderer said. “If the migrants entered Croatia before the videos were taken, then in the case of each migrant an individual decision should have been made by the Croatian authorities against which an effective remedy must have been available to the migrant.”
For its part, the Croatian government has denied any wrongdoing. It said officers were not expelling migrants but legally “deterring them from illegally entering Croatia” under article 13 of the Schengen border code.