Human Rights Watch (HRW) sent an open letter to Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic on Monday, calling on Croatia to “immediately stop summarily returning migrants and asylum seekers to Bosnia and Herzegovina, in some cases with force”.

The open letter was sent days after Grabar-Kitarovic’s admission - during an interview on Swiss television SFR - that Croatian police were forcing migrants back over the border.

HRW and other non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Council of Europe (CoE), have regularly reported on and raised concerns about pushbacks and violence by Croatian border officials at Croatia’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Croatian authorities had denied the allegations, in some cases with smears of the groups and victims”, the HRW reported.

Zagreb needs to put an end to unlawful pushbacks and violence against migrants at its borders,” said Lydia Gall, senior researcher for Balkans and the Eastern European Union at Human Rights Watch.

Croatian border officials have mistreated hundreds, perhaps thousands, of migrants and asylum seekers, who deserve redress and justice”, she said.

Since July 2018, the European Coast Guard and Border Agency Frontex has had a presence on the Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina border through a Multipurpose Aerial Surveillance (MAS) system, meaning daily aerial patrols along the border and border area to detect irregularities. One of the priorities of the Frontex operation is to detect human rights violations and summary returns.

But in late May, Frontex told HRW that it had not detected any human rights violations or pushbacks.

The Croatian president’s statement calls into question the effectiveness of Frontex’s mission and the extent to which it is capable of fulfilling its mandate to protect human rights while engaged in border control efforts”, Human Rights Watch said.

According to the HRW, the Croatian President and the government should immediately take necessary steps to comply fully with international and EU law. “The EU should review the Frontex border operation to ensure compliance with EU laws and fundamental rights. The European Commission should call on Croatia, an EU member state, to halt and investigate summary returns of asylum seekers to Bosnia and Herzegovina and allegations of violence against asylum seekers. The Commission should also initiate legal enforcement action against Croatia for violating EU laws”, the HRW said.

The denial of Croatia’s abusive border policies by Zagreb and EU institutions is no longer tenable”, said Gall. “The European Commission needs to protect EU law and fundamental rights at external borders by opening infringement proceedings against Croatia and calling on authorities to investigate alleged abuse and provide fair and efficient access to asylum”, she concluded.

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