More calls for ‘urgent action to end violent pushbacks’ along Croatian border

By Emma Wallis

The IOM in Bosnia has called for the international community to take “urgent action to end violent pushbacks and collective expulsions of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, including minors, along the Croatian border with Bosnia Herzegovina.”

The call comes after teams at the UN migration agency IOM in Bosnia-Herzegovina along with local NGOs say they encountered a “group of 50 men walking close to the official border crosing with Croatia,” on April 2.

The men were walking in the direction of the city of Bihac, in the Una-Sana Canton in the north-west of the country. According to a press release from the IOM posted on April 6, the men were “physically exhausted, in need of clothes and shoes, and had wounds on their bodies.”

Emergency teams at the UN stepped in to provide the men with “food, clothing shoes and hygiene items,” stated the press release, and medical teams with the NGOs provided “urgent medical assistance to 25 of them.”

The men, stated the press release, told the IOM team and NGOs that whilst they were attempting to cross the border, their belongings had been taken from them, including their mobile phones and money, and then they had been “beaten with wooden sticks while forcibly returned to the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

‘Alarming and recurrent situation’

The IOM describes this incidence as “alarming” and says it is a “recurrent situation,” which “highlights the need to improve migration and asylum policy and governance and implement humane and integrated rights-based practices.”

The UN agency reiterates that “pushbacks and collective expulsions are prohibited under international and EU law,” and that the “UN condemns in the strongest terms the use of violence against migrants, asylum seekers and refugees at any border.”

In the press release, it was not stated who exactly is alleged to have carried out the beatings and pushbacks. However, there have been numerous allegations from NGOs and migrants themselves that Croatian police and authorities are the ones who do this.

‘Deep concern … at disproportionate force used’

Last year, in 2020, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants “expressed deep concern” at “the repeated and ongoing disproportionate use of force against migrants in pushback operations.”

According to the IOM press release, since 2017, “over 70,000” migrants have entered Bosnia-Herzegovina and “over 4,000 people” are currently “hosted in official reception facilities,” with a further estimated 1,700 people residing in makeshift accommodation in the woods and surrounding countryside, waiting and hoping to cross the border.

Migrants in BiH who have spoken to InfoMigrants complain they are left to “live like animals,” in sub-standard accommodation and squats. They are often rounded up within Bosnia and taken to official accommodation for a short while, until they leave and set off back towards the border to attempt the crossing.

Many migrants refer to crossing the border as “the game” and report trying multiple times before they eventually get through. In a recent report from InfoMigrants, they explained how their only aim was to get to Croatia and on in to the EU. The majority of migrants coming through Bosnia come from south Asian countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan, Afghanistan and some from north Africa and the Middle East.