The European Commission took account of the Human Rights Watch report when evaluating Croatia's preparedness to join the Schengen area and concluded that Croatia continued to meet its commitments towards human rights protection, European Commission spokeswoman Tove Ernst said on Friday.
She recalled that the Commission had made its recommendation in a report three weeks ago, in which it concluded that Croatia continued to fulfil its commitments relating to the protection of human rights. Now it is up to the Council of the EU to decide on Croatia's accession to the Schengen area, she added.
The non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch said in a report on Friday that the Commission's conclusions from October about the technical readiness of Croatia to join the Schengen area did not hold in the face of evidence of violent pushbacks of migrants from the Croatian border. As proof of its claim, HRW released a video on its website documenting the abuses.
"The European Commission’s action sends the message that serious human rights abuses are no obstacle to Schengen accession. The European Commission should investigate the situation instead of rewarding Croatia," HRW said.
"Croatia’s unlawful and violent summary returns of asylum seekers and migrants should disqualify it from joining the Schengen Area,” said Lydia Gall, senior Eastern Europe and Balkans researcher at HRW.
The European Commission said it was in close contact with Croatian authorities and would continue following the situation together with them.
The Commission always takes allegations of mistreatment of migrants very seriously, Ernst said. As for Croatia, the protection of the human rights of migrants and asylum seekers, accusations that they are denied access to the asylum seeking process and accusations that police use force, that remains a challenge. We are in close contact with Croatian authorities regarding this issue. They have committed to looking into these accusations and we will continue following the situation together with Croatian authorities, she added.
The spokeswoman said that a monitoring mechanism had been put in place at the Commission's request to ensure full compliance with EU law by border authorities.
We supported the efforts by the Croatian authorities to ensure respect for fundamental rights, primarily on the borders, and a portion of the €7 million emergency aid package that has been granted to Croatia is intended for strengthening border management and for monitoring. As we specified a few weeks ago, Croatia continues to meet its commitments in this area. We have acted by setting up the monitoring mechanism, for which we have granted funding, and we remain in close contact with the Croatian authorities, Ernst said.