European Commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, appeared in an exclusive interview for N1 Television on Friday to talk to N1's global affairs editor Ivana Dragicevic about the European Commission's cooperation with Croatian authorities on the issue of migrants and border control. A recent report by the Danish Refugee Council alleged abuse and violence by Croatian border police against migrants trying to cross into Croatia and on Thursday Johansson said the report represented "evidence of push-backs and inhuman and degrading treatment."
On Friday, Johansson gave the following short interview to N1 Television, in which she talked about the recent report and proposed mechanisms to tackle this issue.
So we saw yesterday that you’ve said that you are taking the DRC (Danish Refugee Council) and other reports that we saw on pushbacks and inhumane treatment of migrants on Croatian borders very seriously. So, what are basically the EC (European Commission) mechanisms that can act towards Croatia in these kinds of situations?
We have been working closely with the Croatian government for quite a time on this, to make sure that the protection of borders is being done in a way that you do not abuse, on the rights of migrants or people. So this is something that we need to continue. We also have this agreement that we should also involve the Croatian Ombudsman, the Croatian Law Centre, and the UNHCR in this work, and the Croatian government needs to develop a good monitoring mechanism. But we are also from the Commission planning to send a mission on the ground, together with the Croatian authorities, to help work this out. Because we have to, of course, make sure that we do not abuse people – and that’s why this report concerns me a lot.
The Commission is also financing monitoring mechanisms on violations of human rights at the borders, and Croatian authorities previously committed to investigate and report on these violations, we had this kind of reports before. Is the Commission monitoring how the money is spent, and have you received any reports from Zagreb?
Yes, we are, and we are in close contact. We have the first report for the money (spent) from 2018, and now (about) the money that was decided on in December last year – we’re going to have a report after that period is finalised. So, we are monitoring that, yes.
Concerning the fact how high this Commission is basically putting the rule of law and the respect of fundamental rights on its agenda, in what ways, if any, can this situation affect, for example, the (European passport-free travel area) Schengen negotiations of Croatia?
Well I think we have to solve, and I’m sure that the Croatian government is of the same position, that we have to make sure that we do not abuse our rights at our external borders and we are ready to help Croatian authorities and government to achieve that. So that’s really important, it’s important that they investigate all these alleged pushbacks and abuse. That’s really important. So what I think, and also for the future, I have put now a new migration pact on migration and asylum on the table. And there I have included a new legal mechanism that all member states should be obliged to have an independent monitoring mechanism to make sure that pushbacks are not taking place on our external borders.
Who would be the one doing the monitoring within this mechanism? Is it going to be, you know, member states, Ombudsmans, or some independent bodies? How are you organising that?
That’s a very clever question from you. I must say that this can be organised in different ways but it has to be an independent monitoring mechanism – so it’s not the government that are monitoring themselves. It should be an independent monitoring mechanism, and I’ve just asked the fundamental rights agency to produce guidelines for member states how they could set up this independent monitoring mechanism. And Croatia is already working on that, but they have to do even more.
So it’s important basically not to have impunity in these kinds of cases?
Of course, that’s very important. I think, when it comes to this, it’s about the rule of law, it’s about fundamental rights, and for me this is why we are European, because we defend our values – we defend the Treaty, we defend the fundamental rights. And that’s really the core of the European Union.
Why is the issue of migration, in those terms of human rights, is not included in this rule of law criteria which is connected to EU funds – which is being debated in Europe today?
Well the rule of law is connected, and migration… I’ve just put a new pact on the table that has been received, I should say, in a constructive way from member states, so I’m looking forward now to negotiations with member states. And I think when it comes to migration it is important to re-build trust between member states, to manage migration together. And of course, we need to protect our borders, but we need also to protect fundamental rights.
Talking about this pact – it’s basically trying to connect more solidarity, and you have a commitment to have a more human approach in migration. But in terms of sharing the burden, the externalisation of the issue of migration, deterrents, containment, and return, in terms of, you know, deportations and things like that – are you confident that we will have now ‘more Europe’ than we have had since (the peak of the migrants crisis in) 2015?
If my pact is adopted, yes. We will have a more humane (approach), we will have more solidarity, and we will be managing migration in an orderly way. Also, make the distinction between those that are eligible to stay and should be welcome in our society, and those that are not eligible to stay, they have to return to their country of origin.
You had a meeting with Western Balkans ministers, emphasising that basically border management has to be conducted in full respect of fundamental rights. Reports on the situation that we have on the ground, especially in our neighbourhood, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that is being talked about in this sense of pushbacks, is worrying. We see these pictures, we see people with no shelters, no centres for migrants and refugees, these inhumane conditions. How can this be solved?
Well, the Commission is ready, we are ready to help and support. And that’s what we discussed. Just yesterday we had this ministerial meeting. And also it’s not only about managing borders, it’s also about managing migration, and to have in place proper asylum processes, proper reception facilities, so that people should not live under unacceptable circumstances – and also to help the Western Balkan partners with returns. So, we were talking about a huge package of support that we are ready to develop together with the Western Balkan partners, but it’s also important that they prioritise this area, because they would like to be members of European Union and that’s why we need to manage migration more in line – also with the Western Balkan partners – in line with the acquis of the European Union.
So you are basically waiting for the ombudsman and NGOs to bring their know-how in this process on the borders?
Yes, I think it’s important, and that’s why we need to work close with Croatian authorities, but I think it’s obvious that we need to continue developing the managing of the borders to make sure that no abuse takes place.
And now one question which is also basically in your portfolio, and we are witnessing it all across the continent – it’s the radicalisation, organised crime, the social media factor regarding the issue, I think, is basically trying to fight really hard. An important factor in this radicalisation is that people often feel left out, discriminated, they’re being caught into some networks or act alone. Some of them are EU citizens, others are those who see you as their promised land, but are facing mistreatment – so what’s your message to member states what they have to do in that regard?
Well, they have to do a lot when it comes to preventing radicalisation. Of course, inclusion in society is important. It’s important to avoid new gaps between people, especially now when we have this economic crisis, after or during the pandemic. But it’s also important to monitor and to help fighting for fake news and the kind of narrative that are being built, especially in social media and the internet, that are saying, using the for example the Covid situation to put out narratives that are very dangerous and put hate into the minds of people. So I think that you need to prevent radicalisation in many aspects, and you need to very much involve all those that are working, you know, in schools, and social workers, police, men and women, in this work.