Between October 2018 and early 2019, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee crossed the Bosnian-Croatian border in order to escape the malfunctioning asylum system and intolerable living conditions in Bosnian refugee camps. He and other refugees were pushed back six times by armed Croatian police officials. The officials used torches and pepper spray to blind the people trying to cross the border – and later subjected them to prolonged, brutal assaults, using electric shocks, among others. The Syrian’s and other refugees’ asylum requests were roundly dismissed, no individual assessment took place and they were ordered to cross back over the border.
Therefore, the Syrian asylum applicant, supported by ECCHR and PRO ASYL submitted a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee urging it to examine Croatia’s practice of expulsions. This is the first time a complaint on pushbacks was submitted to the UN HRC. The case was registered and communicated to Croatia on 11 December 2020.
The Syrian’s case is not an isolated incident, Croatia collectively and summarily pushes back migrants and refugees to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), using weapons and excessive violence, thereby operating a rights-free border zone which denies any form of legal protection.
Croatia is a signatory to both the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights. Yet at no point were the applicant’s human rights considered by Croatian officials. Instead, he was treated merely as an object of the law and denied any rights as a human being. He asserts a violation of article 16 ICCPR which guarantees the right to recognition as a person before law. He states that he was neither supplied with any form of information nor with the option to legally challenge his deportation, a breach of article 2(3) ICCPR. He also asserts that Croatia’s failure to individually assess the inhumane conditions awaiting him in BiH violated Article 7 ICCPR which prohibits torture or cruel and degrading treatment.
Migrants’ and refugees’ collective expulsions from Croatia have been documented since early 2016. Prior to that, the so-called Balkan corridor crossing Croatia was seen as a relatively safe and fast route taken by forced migrants coming from Greece, leading up through the Balkans and on to Northern and Western Europe. During winter 2015, this route was gradually shut down as several states introduced stricter border controls.
In March 2016, the European Council announced that flows of migrants along the Western Balkans route “had come to an end”. Yet the Balkan route was not sealed off and people continue to attempt to migrate along it. Its official closure merely changed the route’s characteristics. Many arriving on Greek shores are now contained in EU-funded hotspots, such as Moria, a “living hell,” filled to over ten times capacity, where physical and psychological violence, and growing levels of suicide persist.