For years, Croatian police have been accused of beating migrants. Now a new investigation finds that the EU has helped to cover up the country’s human rights record.
Migrants on the Croatian border with Bosnia continue to face a “horrifying escalation”, according to an Amnesty International report.
The news comes as an investigation has uncovered that the European Union (EU) has covered up the Croatian government's failures to monitor police officers who have abused, robbed and tortured migrants crossing the border before sending them back into Bosnia.
Human rights organisation, Ero-Med Monitor, responded to the findings by saying that it was, “Deeply disturbing that #EU would opt for covering up –instead of ending – the serious scandal of #Croatian border police abusing & brutalizing asylum seekers, stripping them naked & spray-painting them with cross signs, & then returning them to #Bosnia!”
The EU was afraid of a backlash should it come to light that money earmarked to monitor the behaviour of Croatian border officers - a condition for gaining a larger EU grant - had instead been used for other activities.
Human rights organisations have sounded the alarm bells for years over fears that Croatian border guards had been abusing migrants.
“European governments are complicit in the systematic, unlawful and frequently violent pushbacks and collective expulsions of thousands of asylum seekers to squalid and unsafe refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” declared Amnesty International in 2019.
The EU has given more than $147 million to Croatia to help border security keep migrants out since 2015. Meanwhile, Bosnia has received $2.2 million in humanitarian assistance to help migrants. The disparity in funding has been criticised as inhumane.
“To understand where the priorities of European governments lie, one only needs to follow the money. Their financial contribution towards humanitarian assistance is dwarfed by the funds they provide for border security” said Massimo Moratti of Amnesty International.
Croatian special forces have been accused of using metal sticks, batons and pistol grips on migrants, as well as rubbing tomato ketchup sauce, mayonnaise and even sugar on the wounds sustained on migrants.
Former Croatian President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who left office this past February, has always publicly maintained that migrants’ injuries were a result of their arduous journeys, and has always asserted that the police “are not violent.”
In an off-camera moment, however, she admitted that “Of course, a little bit of force is needed when doing push-backs."
At the same time, the EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Ylva Johansson, has threatened Bosnia for failing to provide centres to help its migrants.
In a letter seen by the Associated Press and the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch said they expect Bosnia to follow the rule of law and respect human rights.
“Should this not be the case, the Commission will reconsider its assistance in the area of migration management,” it read.
In 2017, Bosnia registered just 755 migrant arrivals. In 2019, that figure rose to over 29,000.
The border between Croatia and Bosnia has become one of the main entry points into Europe, especially since other countries closed off their own during the height of the 2015 refugee crisis.
Bosnia has now become one of the main bottleneck routes of mainland Europe through which thousands of migrants from the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa come in the hope of a better life.