Human Rights Watch Appeals to EU to Act on Croatia Border Pushbacks, Opposes Schengen Accession

Croatia map Europe Schengen with flag

New York-based international human rights advocate Human Rights Watch has assailed the assessment of the European Commission in its report published on October 22, 2019 confirming Croatia’s readiness to be part of borderless Schengen area.

The international non-governmental organization calls on the European Union to act on Croatia’s violent pushbacks of foreign migrants off its borders as it presented a video to prove its claims. It believes Croatia is not in a position yet to join Schengen territory while urging the EU to address the human rights violation issue. 

In the released video, migrants pushed back at Croatia’s borders were interviewed. They described how Croatian police forced them to return to Bosnia last August. The video also reveals in secretly recorded scenes Croatian police escorting migrants into Bosnia and Herzegovina from the border without the benefit of due process.

Human Rights Watch says that the European Council’s conclusion sends the wrong message that human rights abuses are not seen as a problem by the Schengen Area for countries interested to join it.

Human Rights Watch senior researcher on Balkans and Eastern Europe says “Croatia’s unlawful and violent summary returns of asylum seekers and migrants should disqualify it from joining the Schengen Area…Ignoring Croatia’s abuses of migrants at its borders makes the notion that Schengen membership is contingent on respect for human rights just meaningless talk,”   

HRW suggests that the European Council reassesses Croatia’s compliance with its Schengen Borders code before rendering approval to the Commission’s report.

It should press Croatia to demonstrate concrete progress by putting in place an independent and effective monitoring mechanism and require evidence of thorough investigations of summary returns of migrants and asylum seekers at its borders and allegations of Croatian guards using violence against them,” HRW further recommends. 

At the same time, it is urging the Commission to enforce legal action against Croatia for the country’s violation of EU laws.

On October 22, 2019 the European Commission stated that Croatia has initiated the measures necessary to meet the conditions for the compliance to all Schengen rules and standards.    

Many organizations and support groups that work with the victims of Croatia’s border violence have criticized the European Commission’s decision. They call for Croatia to be prevented from joining the Schengen area until it completely stops the violent illegal pushback of migrants and complies with human rights regulations. Nine major organizations have led the initiative to keep Croatia out of the borderless Schengen area or make its membership conditional and contingent to the improvement of its asylum practices. These organizations, among many that are opposed to Croatia’s violative human rights practices, are the Ombudsperson’s Office, Council for Europe Commissioner for Human Rights UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Médecins Sans Frontiers, Asylum Protection Center, Croatian civil society organizations and activists, and various governmental and non-governmental organizations.  

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