By now our database contains more than 150 push-back reports from the Bosnian-Croatian border. In light of this figure it seems hard to deny this illegal practice of collective expulsions of people seeking protection, perpetrated by the Croatian police and often accompanied by violence.
The people returning from the border with broken arms or legs, or showing bloodshot eyes and marks of beatings with batons on their backs, are no isolated cases. Their injuries and testimonies prove irrefutably institutionalised and systematically applied practices – even if the Croatian Minister of the Interior continues to deny these accusations and instead prefers to accuse refugees of self-injury . Meanwhile, various large international media have taken up the topic and report on developments at the Bosnian-Croatian border. The Guardian, for example, recently published a video showing a refugee bleeding from several wounds just after a pushback . Yet, for some reason, up to now the available evidence has not been enough to hold the responsible persons and institutions accountable. New video material provided to BVM by an anonymous group should now close this gap in evidence.
VIDEO MATERIAL PROVES ILLEGAL PUSH-BACKS FROM CROATIA
On 20 November we received a letter containing extensive video footage from the Bosnian-Croatian border area. For security reasons, the informants themselves prefer to remain anonymous; yet for the extensiveness and level of detail of the material in concordance with other reports, we consider it authentic. The footage was filmed by hidden cameras in a forest near Lohovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, (Coordinates 44.7316124, 15.9133454) between 29 September and 10 October 2018 and show 54 push-backs.
At least 350 refugees, including small children, minors and women, can clearly be seen on the video recordings as victims of these pushbacks, which take place several times a day and at night. Should they occur just as frequently as during the filmed period, the number of push-backs at this border crossing alone exceeds 150 per month. For the first time, the material can unambiguously prove that the Croatian police systematically conducts collective expulsions on Bosnian territory.
The group’s report accompanying the material reads:
“These push-backs are not conducted at an official border checkpoint and without the presence of Bosnian officials and are therefore illegal. In addition, documentation by various NGOs suggests that asylum applications by refugees were previously disregarded.”
These expulsions over the green border do not follow formal return procedures and can thus not be justified with the 2007 readmission agreement between the EU and Bosnia. The only legal way to return people would be through the readmission process at the official border crossing after a readmission application has been made to the Bosnian authorities.
PROOF OF MULTIPLE CRIMINAL OFFENCES
In not complying with these procedures, the police officers involved violate international law, in particular the prohibition of collective expulsions laid down in Article 4 of the Fourth Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 19 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights . Similarly, the right to asylum, as agreed in the Geneva Convention on Refugees and Article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, is not granted.
“According to first-hand accounts, the officials inflict violence during approximately one in five push-backs in Lohovo, which is considerably less than on other push-back locations on the Bosnian-Croatian border. Here as in other locations, mobile phones are almost always destroyed and returned in a yellow plastic bag.”
In the videos themselves, the violence becomes apparent in the form of kicks and insults. Shots and screams that can be heard at close range indicate that the beatings and humilliations which are extensively documented by various NGOs , take place nearby.
Interestingly enough, the group seems to be planning to release even more video material from the border:
“We already have more recordings from other locations and will publish them as soon as we have collected enough material. Since push-backs at other locations often take place at night, we work here with thermal cameras and other special equipment.”
With their work, the group aims to contribute to the end of push-backs and police violence in Croatia, they state:
“We demand that the human rights violations at the Bosnian-Croatian border stop immediately. For this it is necessary that they are examined in an official investigation both internally, by the Croatian Minister of the Interior, and by the European Commission, which co-finances Croatian border security from the Internal Security Fund (ISF).”
BVM supports these demands. Now more than ever, the evidence is calling for immediate investigations by the Croatian authorities as well as by the European Union of which Croatia is a member state and which co-funds Croatian border security. The European Commission should call on Croatia to stop and investigate collective expulsions of asylum seekers to Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as allegations of violence perpetrated by Croatian officers. The EU Commission should also open legal proceedings against Croatia for violating EU laws.
We would like to make the material that was sent to us available to the general public, in order to make them visible as evidence of the everyday events at the borders of the European Union.
In case of queries we can establish encrypted communication with the anonymous group.
See for instance:
See also reports from international organizations, as well as the Ombudsperson’s Office:
-Ombudsperson’s Office reports (in Croatian):