In fall 2018, three young men from Syria, including an unaccompanied minor, crossed the border from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia. After fleeing Syria, they sought protection and security in Europe. But, armed Croatian police officers pushed them and other refugees back across the border, without asking them about their personal situation or allowing them to apply for asylum. In the course of the push-backs, Croatian officers beat the refugees and unlawfully detained them.
The Syrians SB, AA and AB filed individual complaints at the European Court of Human Rights with the support of ECCHR and PRO ASYL in April 2019. Subsequently, the court asked the Croatian government a series of questions about its push-back practice to which Croatia responded with written observations. In April 2021, the complainants filed a further submission including more evidence on the systematic push-backs at Croatia’s borders.
The Syrian men’s pushbacks are not isolated incidents, but standard practice along Croatia’s border. The police use weapons, and sometimes, excessive violence, to push people back to Bosnia and Herzegovina. In doing so, they ignore refugees’ rights, and act as if the border area is a legal vacuum. The Croatian government has not, however, prosecuted any border agents.
The three complainants assert that their push-backs from Croatia breach Article 4 Protocol 4 (prohibition of collective expulsions) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Furthermore, given asylum seekers’ inhumane living conditions and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s inadequate asylum system, they claim that their expulsions also violates Article 3 (inhuman or degrading treatment).
These complaints are part of a series of similar legal interventions ECCHR has taken against pushbacks at the EU’s external borders and internal European borders.
For years, Croatia has been attempting to join the EU Schengen Area, which has abolished all border controls at their mutual borders. Apparently, the Croatian government is prepared to violate the rights of refugees and migrants as part of its migration and asylum policy. Croatia’s use of pushbacks have been condemned by the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, UNHCR and other international and local NGOs and activists since 2016.
Until the winter of 2015/16, the so-called Balkan corridor was a relatively safe route for people to reach Northern and Western Europe from Greece. In spring 2016, the countries along this route closed their borders. In March 2016, the European Council announced that “irregular” flows of refugees from the Balkans had come to an end. However, people continued to migrate along this route. Instead of receiving protection, at least 170 people have died on this route.