The Hidden Refugee Crisis in Bosnia and Croatia

Published 2nd October 2018

Migrants crossing to Croatia from Bosnia are being pushed back and harassed by the Croatian police. With over 13,000 migrants arriving in Bosnia last year (a 15-fold increase from the previous year) a new refugee crisis along the Balkan route is developing.

Following a number of reports from civil society and international newspapers, reports of violence by the Croatian police are quickly spreading. Migrants crossing over from Bosnia have been pushed back, beaten and their possessions have been stolen. The beatings targeted men, women and young children. Some were hit with police batons, others were kicked and punched. Men and women were rounded up, made to undress, forcefully searched, and then beaten. They have been physically scarred, cannot access the medical care they need, and have suffered severe mental abuse.

People depart every night from Velika Kladusa, a small city on the Bosnian border. They are making their way through the forest towards Croatia. The situation in the town was described by Peter Van der Auweraert, IOM’s representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as “a human catastrophe”. The border corresponds to the last European frontier, and returning refugees across the border to Bosnia constitutes a breach of the non-refoulement principle, according to which EU states cannot return refugees to a state where they face a threat to life or liberty. The Croatian police have been breaching international and European law every day. According to UNHCR, over 2,500 people have been pushed back. Countless more have been beaten and harassed.

Here are some of their stories:

Rahim, 38, from Afghanistan*
“Every country we have been in we have had problems with police, but nothing like Croatian police. I don’t mind which country we end up in. My daughter is sick, I just want to take her somewhere with good doctors. We don’t have any money so we can’t pay smugglers.

“We are just walking, walking, walking every time in the night. Last time, we were five days in the forest, but then the police stopped us at the end. They took €180 from me and sent us back. This time they didn’t hit me. They have beaten me twice out of five attempts.‘‘

Leila, 45, from Iran*

“I have tried five or six times to cross into Croatia, every time they have caught me. Once they lied to me, they said I could stay for 21 days if I signed some papers at the police station, so I did. Then they took my photograph, drove me back to the border, and let me out. They stole my last €150 and my telephone. I have paid thousands of euros and I have been travelling for two years. I have two daughters here with me and I don’t know what to do.‘‘

Please donate to our Croatia Emergency Appeal so we can provide medical care and supplies to these desperate refugees.


*Case studies from The Guardian


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