The Croatian government has denied allegations of violence by its border patrol police after new reports emerged this week of black clad border units allegedly beating, robbing and sexually abusing migrants.
Following the latest accusations, the government in Zagreb said it would launch an investigation with Ylva Johansson, the head of home affairs for the European Commission, said on Wednesday that she was taking the allegations “very seriously”.
On Thursday (Oct. 22), the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) said they had taken new testimonies from a group of 23 migrants intercepted on Monday in woods near the Croatian–Bosnian border.
“The testimonies collected from victims of pushbacks are horrifying,” said Charlotte Slente, DRC secretary general. “More than 75 persons in one week have all independently reported inhumane treatment, savage beatings and even sexual abuse.”
The group, mostly from Bangladesh, had all entered the country from Bosnia. They say they stopped to sleep but awoke to find themselves surrounded by men armed with truncheons, pistols and night vision goggles – the Croatian police who patrol the EU’s longest external border.
“‘How many of you are gay?’ asked a policeman, wearing a black uniform and a balaclava,” one Bangladeshi man said to the DRC medical team.
“At that point, we were stripped naked and ordered to form a line and put our hands on the shoulders of the man in front. They had just robbed us, beaten us with batons and wooden sticks.”
“Are you gay?”, the Croatian official allegedly asked one of the migrants before sexually assaulting him with a tree branch.
It is the second allegation of sexual violence documented in less than a week by members of the Croatian police against asylum seekers in the Bosnia-Croatia border region. The latest testimonies suggested an increase in the brutality used in pushbacks on the Bosnia-Croatian border.
“Croatian authorities have committed to investigate reports of mistreatment at their external borders, monitor this situation closely and keep the commission informed on progress made,” read a statement on social media from Johansson.
“Today I am meeting with ministers from the western Balkans to discuss cooperation on migration management in light of the new pact on migration and asylum. I reminded [them]that effective border management must be conducted in full respect of fundamental rights.”
Last year a group of 36 mostly Syrian asylum seekers, including minors, were stopped by the Croatian police near Donji Vaganac. They reported similar sexual assaults to the watchdog organisation Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN).
“We didn’t try to apply for asylum,” one man told BVMN. “How can I apply for asylum or expect to be given protection from a country whose police officers force me to strip to my underwear and [sexually assault me]in front of my wife and children?”
According to most victims interviewed by the media and NGOs in recent years, the men responsible for these alleged atrocities are officers in black uniforms and balaclavas, to whom other Croatian police would hand the migrants over, to push them back to Bosnia.
Jack Sapoch, from BVMN and a member of No Name Kitchen, an NGO operating in Bosnia, says there is a spectrum of Croatian forces working along the border.
“According to our research, these uniforms are consistent with those worn by the Croatian ministry of the interior’s intervention police units, who are deployed to the border from police stations all over the country”, Sapoch said. (Source: The Guardian)