Fearing a scandal, EU officials have been accused of an “outrageous cover-up” by withholding evidence that show Croatian police’ brutality against migrants by robbing, abusing and humiliating them at its borders.
European commission officials in Brussels had been fearful of a backlash against the failure by Croatia’s government to supervise their police as part of monitoring mechanism that ministers had previously agreed to fund with EU money.
Before a questioning by a senior MEP in January, a commission official had warned a colleague that the Croatian government’s failure to use money earmarked two years ago for border police “will for sure be seen as a ‘scandal’”.
Supervision of the behaviour of border officers had been the condition set on a larger grant of EU funds to Croatia.
There have been multiple allegations of violent pushbacks of migrants and refugees by Croatian police on the border with Bosnia, including an incident in which a migrant was shot.
In response to allegations of a cover-up, an EC spokesman told the Guardian that what was known had been withheld from MEPs as the information was believed to have been “incomplete”.
It throws a spotlight on both the Croatian government’s human rights record and the apparent willingness of the EU’s executive branch to cover for Zagreb’s failure.
Croatia is seeking to enter the EU’s passport-free Schengen zone – a move that requires compliance with European human rights standards at borders.
Despite heated denials by the Croatian authorities, the latest border incident has been described by aid workers as the most violent in the Balkan migration crisis.
On May 26, 11 Pakistani and five Afghan men were stopped by a group wearing black uniforms and balaclavas in the Plitvice Lakes, 16km (10 miles) into Croatia from the Bosnian border.
“The men in uniforms tied each of the Pakistanis and Afghanis around a tree, so their wrists were bound and they had to turn their faces toward the trees,” according to a report from the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), which provides healthcare for migrants in Bosnia. “Once these people were unable to move, the men in uniforms fired several shots in the air with guns placed close to the ears of the Pakistanis and Afghanis. There were also shots fired close to their legs.’’
“They kept shooting. They were shooting so closely that the stones under our feet were flying and being blown to pieces,” one of the men told the Guardian. “They kept saying: ‘I want to beat and kill you.’ They tortured us for three to four hours.”
After a while, the men in balaclavas called other uniformed officers.
According to the victims and a report by the DRC, “before the police arrival, one of the men in uniform made a film with his mobile phone, while others in his company were laughing, yelling and provoking”.
Upon the arrival of police officers, the migrants were put into vans and taken to the border at Šiljkovača, a village close to VelikaKladuša. Police officers did not beat them, but ordered them into Bosnian territory.
Contacted by the Guardian, the Croatian police denied the allegations and suggested that asylum seekers could have fabricated the account and that the wounds could be the result of “a confrontation among migrants”. (Source: The Guardian)