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. 


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.


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.

documents (4)


glossary (1)


Sexual violence

Sexual violence is defined as a violent act of a sexual nature, carried out without consent or the capacity to consent. Such acts are not limited to physical violence, and may not involve any physical contact. It is the deliberate exertion of power over another person, not an act of lust. Sexual violence is often used as a tool to systematically humiliate individuals or groups.

Sexual violence results from social inequality and oppressive patriarchal power structures. It constitutes a political crime, employed to pursue political or military goals.  Sexual crimes include rape, sexual assault, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, forced abortion, forced prostitution, sexual slavery, forced circumcision, genital mutilation or forced nudity.

Topics (1)



Kilometers of barbed wire exclusion fences, thousands of high-tech patrols at sea, in the air and on land, pushback agreements with neighboring countries: the European Union goes to great lengths to exclude people fleeing from war, persecution and hardship in their home countries. To justify their actions leaders in Brussels and the EU member states claim the pushbacks are politically necessary and permitted under law.

Every other week another boat carrying migrants and refugees capsizes or sinks off the coast of Italy or Malta. Witnesses frequently report instances of abuse at the borders between Turkey and Greece. There is a steady climb in the number of people who lose their lives while trying to cross the Moroccan-Spanish border. All of these events serve as evidence of the terrible failure of the EU’s asylum and refugee policies.

Illegal pushbacks or forced returns at EU borders represent a flagrant violation of fundamental human rights and refugee laws. In the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern coast of Africa, refugees and migrants are repeatedly subjected to brutal violence from border guards. Anyone attempting to enter these Spanish cities – and thereby reach EU territory – is immediately deported to Morocco without any examination of their right to asylum.

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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