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Croatian police forces have denied allegations of physically and verbally abusing refugees at the Bosnian-Croatian border amidst numerous claims made by refugees. As a member of the European Union, the abuse sheds light on the issue of the lack of accountability and responsibility that some European states play in the migrant crisis. Bosnia and Herzegovina has become a new route to Western Europe, where many refugees have crossed over to Croatia and Slovenia to reach countries such as Germany. Nonetheless, refugees fleeing from war-torn countries should not be subjected to heinous treatment made by state authorities in the areas in which they are fleeing to.
Some refugees have claimed that inhumane treatments made by the Croatian police have involved not only extensive physical trauma, but also hindering refugees’ navigation towards Europe by stealing money and destroying mobile phones. According to Al Jazeera, one refugee has stated that “dogs are treated better than us” when alluding to the harsh treatment initiated by the Croatian police. Another refugee has also claimed that the Croatian police “had no mercy” when it came to physically assaulting men, women and children, often involved humiliation tactics. However, in contrast to the numerous claims made by refugees who have experienced this trauma, the Croatian government have denied these claims by stating that “no complaint so far has proved to be founded.”
The testimonies highlight the issue of poor treatment directed towards refugees by state authorities throughout Europe. The recurring theme of using abuse and physical violence as a method of sending refugees back to their country of origin needs to be stopped immediately. More than 700 refugees have reported violence initiated by the Croatian police, and the Croatian government’s lack of accountability must be condemned. Although Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, has praised the Croatian government for managing to control its borders, strong condemnation must be enacted by the international community. Alongside continued condemnation, an independent investigation should be conducted in order to hold those accountable if the Croatian government and law enforcement are not willing to take responsibility for their lack of action and action respectively. Perhaps, the involvement of the United Nations (since Croatia is a member state of the UN) will ensure that a more substantive investigation will be made to hold those involved to human rights abuses.
As a region that has endured political instability for many decades, Bosnia and Croatia have slowly begun to rebuild its society marred by political and ethnic violence. Last year, there were less than 1,000 migrants arriving in Bosnia, but this year there has been at least 9,000. As Bosnia and Croatia share borders and are the middle states dividing war-torn areas and Western Europe, many refugees have sought to cross the border to gain asylum in countries such as Germany and Sweden. In Velika Kladuša, a town on the Bosnian-Croatian border, a temporary campsite built from basic tents has been created to provide shelter for those preparing to cross into Croatia, and for those who have been sent back by Croatian police after being traumatised by violence.
Violence towards refugees is an issue that needs to be addressed at an international level, especially when violence is perpetrated by state authorities who have the responsibility to protecting them. Governments must adhere to the principles of the UN and treat refugees with the respect and dignity they deserve. In the case of the Croatian police, the Croatian government must firstly condemn their actions by launching an independent investigation to avoid international scrutiny and investigations to occur. Those responsible must be held accountable, and those who have been victimised must be heard.