Germany’s public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle noted that Croatia had consistently denied illegally deporting refugees to neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina - until Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic personally confirmed that Croatian police were forcing migrants back over the border.
The DW reminded that Croatia is aiming to join the border-free Schengen area, but also that it had become increasingly clear to what lengths the authorities in Croatia are willing to go to enjoy that freedom of movement.
“Over the past year, many refugees trying to cross into the EU through unofficial border crossings between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have reported of brutal treatment by Croatian border police. Media reports have shown refugees, including children, with wounds and bruises they say were inflicted by police”, the DW reported.
However, according to the DW, most Croatian media outlets have ignored these reports, while the country’s Ministry of Interior has rejected humanitarian organizations’ and media reports of ill-treatment of refugees along the border, denying border police have been carrying out so-called push-backs.
International organization for human rights protection Amnesty International has repeatedly criticized the silence of European institutions.
“European governments are turning a blind eye to Croatian police officers’ assaults and - at the same time - are funding their activities”, the Amnesty International stated back in March.
The Deutsche Welle reminded that Swiss TV station SRF broadcast a report in May on Croatian police officers’ violence and illegal push-back of migrants into Bosnia and Herzegovina.
However, it did not prevent Croatian President from continuing to downplay the actions of Croatian border police. “When someone travels through this difficult terrain, it is normal for them to get scrapes, bruises and injuries. So, next time you hear stories about the brutality of our police officers, you should think twice. They are not violent, I can absolutely guarantee that!” Grabar-Kitarovic recently told journalists during her visit to the border.
Only several days later, in an interview to SFR, Grabar-Kitarovic basically admitted that Croatian police have been carrying out push-backs. “I have spoken with the interior minister, the director of police and officers on the ground, and they assured me they have not been using excessive force. Of course, a little bit of force is needed when doing push-backs, but you have to see the terrain”, she said.
Jelena Sesar from the Amnesty International assessed this statement as ‘shocking’. “Under international law and EU law, collective evictions and push-backs are always illegal”, Sesar told Deutsche Welle, adding that it was scandalous that the Croatian President was trying to present push-backs as a legal measure.
The Deutsche Welle concluded that it was clear one year ago that Croatia intended to take its new role as the EU’s border guard seriously.
During a visit to Berlin in June 2018, Minister of Interior of Croatia Davor Bozinovic proudly proclaimed that “Croatia has the strongest border police in this part of Europe”.