Allegations of pushbacks at Croatia’s borders with Serbia and Bosnia have increased in recent years – as the GDP reported in its 2019 country profile. According to the Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN), these pushbacks have escalated during the pandemic, “confirming that illegal removal practices have not stopped, in spite of the formal closure of borders.” In several instances, migrants and asylum seekers have reported Croatian police spray-painting crosses on their heads as they were pushed back into Bosnia.
According to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, “The actions of spray-painting asylum seekers carry several disturbing meanings, including humiliating asylum seekers, marking repeat border crossers, and traumatizing predominantly Muslim asylum seekers by painting a religious symbol of the cross on their heads. This mirrors discriminatory and racist abuse against civilians that contravenes international human rights law.”
With many monitors unable to assess actions at the border due to movement restrictions, these operations are taking place in “increased silence.” However, this practice was noted with alarm by UNHCR, which urged Croatian authorities to immediately investigate.
According to the BVMN, the Covid-19 guidelines issued by the European Commission on 16 March invited rights breaches at borders such as these pushbacks. The network highlights the following statement, which they argue indirectly implicated migrants and asylum seekers as virus carriers: “Member States have the possibility to refuse entry to non-resident third country nationals where they present relevant symptoms or have been particularly exposed to risk of infection and are considered to be a threat to public health.”
Additional concerns have been noted regarding a confirmed case amongst the Croatian border guard. According to Are You Syrious, the confirmed case involved an officer who worked directly with those attempting to cross the border, putting migrants and asylum seekers at significant risk.
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Croatia, April 2019 Update,” April 2019, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/croatia
- Border Violence Monitoring Network, “Special Report: Covid-19 and Border Violence Along the Balkan Route,” April 2020, https://www.borderviolence.eu/wp-content/uploads/COVID-19-Report.pdf
- L. Tondo, “Croatian Police Accused of Spray-Painting Heads of Asylum Seekers,” The Guardian, 12 May 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/may/12/croatian-police-accused-of-shaving-and-spray-painting-heads-of-asylum-seekers
- Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, “Euro-Med Monitor Condemns Croatian Police Racist Spray-Painting of Asylum Seekers,” 19 May 2020, https://euromedmonitor.org/en/article/3561/Euro-Med-Monitor-Condemns-Croatian-Police-Racist-Spray-Painting-of-Asylum-Seekers
- European Commission, “COVID-19: Guidelines for Border Management Measures to Protect Health and Ensure Availability of Goods and Essential Services,” 16 March 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/what-we-do/policies/european-agenda-migration/20200316_covid-19-guidelines-for-border-management.pdf
- Croatian police have been accused of spray painting asylum seekers heads (The Guardian, 12 May 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/may/12/croatian-police-accused-of-shaving-and-spray-painting-heads-of-asylum-seekers)