Croatia: Pushback of refugees using extreme violence and sexual assault

Victims seek accountability against unknown, masked Croatian officers

Croatia – Pushbacks – Sexual violence

Four refugees subjected to brutal ill-treatment including sexual violence during a pushback operation by Croatian officers in late 2020 demand justice. Together with the Croatian NGO, CMS (Centre for Peace Studies), they have filed a criminal complaint and insist that the perpetrators are identified and held accountable. After the group’s arrival in Germany, Pro Asyl and ECCHR are supporting them in the ongoing investigation. 

Case

In October 2020, a group of five Afghan refugees crossed the Bosnian-Croatian border and were intercepted by Croatian border police. One person in the group who initially tried to escape was later arrested and accused of being the smuggler and of violently resisting the police officers. The other four group members were first detained and after 2 days brought before a judge to testify against the alleged smuggler. In the hearing, they denied all allegations. The Court accepted their statements and ordered their release.

However, the four men were not set free but instead handed over to armed and masked officers and driven to the Bosnian-Croatian border. After exiting the van one by one, the men were forced to strip and throw their clothes into a fire before officers beat, kicked, and punched them. The mistreatment also included whipping and rape using a branch. Severely injured and almost naked, the group was then forced back across the border. In Bosnia they were able to receive some medical treatment and have their accounts documented. Their experiences have been portrayed in the media here and here.

The refugees later managed to file a criminal complaint in Croatia against unknown police officers with the support of CMS, asserting abuse of power, ill-treatment and torture, rape, unlawful detention, and robbery. Whilst the investigation is ongoing, ECCHR and Pro Asyl are assisting the group to testify as victims and witnesses.

Context

In Croatia, pushbacks form part of a designed and systematic state policy, which has been fully documented by human rights institutions, NGOs and the media since 2016. This complaint highlights the extreme forms of violence experienced in recent years during pushback operations and builds on our casework addressing human rights violations at the Bosnian-Croatian border. Croatia’s accession to the Schengen Zone on 1 January 2023 coupled with the EU’s praise for Croatia’s outstanding work in protecting borders stands in stark contrast to the continuing impunity and the lack of effective and independent investigations for human rights violations committed against refugees and migrants by law enforcement officers.

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Definition

Pushback

Pushbacks entail a variety of state measures aimed at forcing refugees and migrants from their territory while obstructing access to applicable legal frameworks and procedural safeguards.

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Insight

Pushbacks

Illegal pushbacks or forced returns at EU borders represent a flagrant violation of fundamental human rights and refugee laws. Since 2014, ECCHR has been examining the scope for legal intervention against the practice of pushbacks in the EU and has been helping affected persons with individual legal proceedings.

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