Croatia's Interior Ministry on Friday said in a press release that a report released by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) organisation consisted of very general claims about the alleged inhumane treatment of migrants by the local police and that it does not contain any concrete evidence.
"It is important to take into consideration that migrants, who are prevented from entering Croatia by police officers or other procedures have been undertaken for their readmission to the country from which they entered illegally, often falsely accuse police officers of violence, in the hope that these accusations will help them in a new attempt to enter Croatia and continue on their way toward their final destination," the Interior Ministry said.
The ministry underscored that advocates of illegal border crossing and illegal entry in the EU have for some time been reporting alleged unlawful conduct by Croatia's police, accusing the police in general of implementing pushbacks on the external EU border.
"In reality just the opposite is occurring in fact. Bosnia and Herzegovina has admitted several times that it cannot protect its border with Serbia and Montenegro due to a capacity shortage. In that situation of a virtually uncontrolled influx of migrants, Bosnia and Herzegovina's authorities are directing migrants to the Una-Sana Canton. Bosnia and Herzegovina has organised transport to that area and it is worth mentioning the coinciding fact that the railway line between Sarajevo and Bihac has been reopened after 27 years, at a time just when migrants are being directed toward the border with Croatia.
Despite efforts by the international community and Croatia, as a member of the EU which has provided funding for humane accommodation of migrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina, those irregular migrants are being accommodated in the Vucjak camp which is located about six kilometres from Croatia's border, the Croatian ministry says adding that those irregular migrants are banned from entering Bihac and are instructed how to illegally cross a state border.
According to Bosnia and Herzegovina's law that route toward Croatia is an illegal crossing and liable to criminal proceedings, the Croatian ministry said.
Conduct toward migrants in line with the Law on Aliens
The press release further notes that HRW did not present any facts in its report.
"There is rare or hardly any information of the smooth flow of migrants entering Bosnia and Herzegovina from Serbia or Montenegro which is indeed unusual considering that it is in fact the cause of the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and that the situation in Vucjak or Bihac is just a consequence of that and something that Croatia's police can absolutely not be responsible for," MUP said.
It adds that migrants illegally crossing the state border are treated according the the Law on Aliens.
MUP said that all accusations by non-governmental organisations and other civil society organisations of alleged violence toward migrants are being checked, however, these reports generally do not have sufficient information required to launch a criminal investigation.
Police are frequently saving migrants
The ministry checks all allegations of unprofessional conduct by the police in detail, which often do not have sufficient information to verify the allegations and if there is any suspicion of a crime being committed that is reported to the State Prosecutor's Office to initiate the relevant procedure in its remit.
The ministry recalls that there have been several cases when Croatia's police have saved migrants from peril at the state border.
"Today even, thanks to the timely reaction by Croatian police a family of five with a woman in an advanced stage of pregnancy with three children has been taken care of in the Korenica area. The pregnant woman was taken to Gospic hospital while her husband and three children were taken to the local police station where they said that they would apply for international protection in Croatia," the press release said.
EC dismisses HRW accusations
The European Commission took account of the HRW report when evaluating Croatia's preparedness to join the Schengen area and concluded that Croatia continued to fulfill 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 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.