The Council of Europe’s antidiscrimination commission, European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has published today new report on Croatia welcoming progress made in a number of fields as well as expressing concern with the persisting problems.
Croatian civil society organisations Are You Syrious and Centre for Peace Studies have published a report raising concerns over the increasing trend of rejection of asylum applications by the Croatian Asylum Department following negative security recommendations by the Security Intelligence Agency (SOA).
An estimated 1,300 unaccompanied child refugees and migrants are at an increased risk of exploitation, violence and trafficking due to the restrictive border policies and inadequate social protection systems across the Balkans, 12 national and international nongovernmental organisations including the International Rescue Committee and Save the Children warn in a report released today.
The updated Country Report on Croatia documents the transformation of the Croatian asylum system following the closure of the Western Balkan route and the exponential rise in the number of asylum seekers entering Croatia compared to previous years. The closure of the route has also led to a substantial increase in incoming Dublin requests and transfers, mainly from Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Due to the increase in the number of arrivals, the Reception Centres for Asylum Seekers in Zagreb and Kutina have reached close to, or in the case of Kutina full, capacity. A total 2,002 persons have been placed in accommodation in the centres in the course of last year. If the trend continues, reception capacities would be soon be full. Several organisations, including UNICEF, Doctors of the World (MdM), the Rehabilitation Centre for Stress and Trauma, the Croatian Red Cross, the Society for Psychological Assistance (SPA) and the Centre for Peace Studies, have reported great problems and major deficiencies in the provision of health care for asylum seekers and refugees. Due to deficiencies in the system, many organisations have targeted their activities in that direction. In relation to integration of refugees and foreigners under subsidiary protection into Croatian society, as in previous years, the greatest problems still relate to learning the Croatian language, healthcare, employment, education and accommodation. No language course has been organised throughout 2016. Beyond challenges facing those arriving in Croatia, a number of organisations, including ECRE, the “Welcome” Initiative, Are You Syrious, Human Rights Watch and Save the Children have reported that push backs from the Croatian territory to Serbia have occurred during 2016 and early 2017.
ECRE presents the findings of its fact-finding visit to Croatia between 28 November and 1 December 2016. The closure of the Western Balkan route and an increase of Dublin returns has resulted in a total of 2,046 asylum seekers in Croatia this year compared to 211 in 2015. The dramatic increaseincludes 540 Dublin returns mostly representing vulnerable groups of asylum seekers such as separated families and families with young children, pregnant women, and persons with severe illnesses. “The closure of the Western Balkan route has trapped asylum seekers in a largely unprepared asylum system now under pressure from an exponential rise in applications, despite efforts from the Croatian authorities, civil society organisations and volunteers to ensure protection and assistance. Further adding to our concern is the fact that the increase includes vulnerable groups of asylum seekers, including persons suffering from severe illnesses, returned to Croatia under the Dublin Regulation. Dublin returns of vulnerable groups by and large are a worrying and unprecedented development,” says Minos Mouzourakis, AIDA Coordinator. The peculiar way asylum seekers transited along the Balkan route with the help of regional governments also calls into question the use of the Dublin Regulation. Pending clarification from the Court of Justice of the European Union on this issue, Dublin transfers from Austria – by far the main sending country – have been temporarily suspended by the Austrian Administrative High Court. “Regardless of the outcome of the legal challenge, European governments should refrain from returning asylum seekers – not least vulnerable groups – to Croatia at a time where there are clear indications of severe problems of reception capacity and there are no guarantees that their fundamental human rights are respected,” says Minos Mouzourakis, AIDA Coordinator.
The updated AIDA report on Croatia documents the reform of the asylum system brought about by the Law on International and Temporary Protection, which entered into force in July 2015. The law has introduced numerous changes, including a reduction of the grounds for applying the accelerated procedure in line with the recast Asylum Procedures Directive and defining grounds for the detention of asylum seekers in line with the recast Reception Conditions Directive. The notion of “risk of absconding”, related to detention for the purposes of transferring an asylum seeker under the Dublin Regulation, is also defined with regard to several criteria. Following the intensification of the refugee crisis in September 2015, Croatia has arranged the accommodation of asylum seekers only in Kutina, one of the two reception centres in the country. At the same time, plans to establish a special facility for vulnerable groups i.e. children, within Croatia’s existing detention centre, initially foreseen for the end of the year, was completed in September, reports the Croatian Law Centre.