A volunteer providing food to a refugee from Afghanistan at the railways station in Rijeka, Croatia. Photo: Human Rights Watch

Croatian police abuse and steal properties of asylum seekers from Afghanistan before pushing them back, HRW says

Croatian police have been frequently pushing back refugees and asylum seekers, majority from Afghanistan, to Bosnia and Herzegovina without considering their asylum requests or protection needs, Human Right Watch says in a report.

Published on May 3, the report titled “‘Like We Were Just Animals’: Pushbacks of People Seeking Protection from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina” says that Croatian authorities engage in pushbacks, including of unaccompanied children and families with young children.

Based on interviews with over 100 people, including more than 20 unaccompanied children and two dozen parents traveling with young children, who described often-brutal pushbacks, some as recently as April 2023. Some people said Croatian police had pushed them back dozens of times, routinely ignoring their asylum requests.

The report also says that Croatian border police “frequenty steal or destroy phones, money, identity documents, and other personal property, and often subject children and adults to humiliating and degrading treatment, sometimes in ways that are explicitly racist.”

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“Pushbacks have long been standard operating procedure for Croatia’s border police, and the Croatian government has bamboozled European Union institutions through deflection and empty promises,” said Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior children’s rights counsel at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report.

“These abhorrent abuses – and the official duplicity that facilitates them – should end,” Bochenek added.

The Croatian Ministry of the Interior has not responded to Human Rights Watch’s requests for a meeting or comment on its findings, the human rights organisation said.

The report calls on the European Commission to hold Croatian authorities accountable for these regular violations of EU law and international norms. Furthermore, other EU countries, including Italy and Slovenia, should not seek to return people to Croatia until Croatian authorities end collective expulsions and ensure respect for the right to seek asylum.