EU: Ombudsman finds Commission failed to ensure rights at Croatian border

An investigation by the EU’s independent oversight body has found that the European Commission (EC) failed to ensure that fundamental human rights were respected in EU-funded border operations by Croatian authorities since 2018. During that time, widespread abuses against migrants and asylum seekers by Croatian border guards have been documented, including people being bound, brutally beaten and tortured.

“The European Commission financed Croatia’s border operations, including the salaries of border guards who are notorious for violent treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, and yet it turned a blind eye to abuses. The Ombudsman has made it clear that the Commission must ensure that EU funds do not support operations that violate human rights” said Eve Geddie, Director of Amnesty International’s EU Office.

The Ombudsman found that the fact that a mechanism for monitoring human rights in Croatia was only established in the summer of 2021, while the European Commission funded ‘emergency’ border control operations since 2018 created confusion and was “regrettable”.

As Amnesty and other warned, the mechanism for monitoring rights violations in Croatia is not independent nor effective and cannot serve as a credible watchdog without significant improvements. Its first report, issued in December, which found that Croatian police ‘acted illegally by returning migrants from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina outside of the framework of international or national law’, was quickly retracted and replaced with a new version which scrubbed all references pointing to any wrongdoing by the Croatian authorities,” said Eve Geddie.

“Too many people have borne the brunt of the Croatian authorities’ border violence, and the European Commission’s lamentable failure to prevent and ensure accountability for it. We expect the Commission to ensure that the mechanism put in place in Croatia with EU assistance is given a broader mandate to effectively monitor and investigate the violations and freed from undue political influence.”

Eve Geddie

In her conclusion, the Ombudsman requested that the EC take a more active role in overseeing the work of the monitoring mechanism to ensure its independence and efficacy and demand from Croatia concrete and verifiable information on steps taken to investigate the reports of collective expulsions and mistreatment of migrants and asylum seekers. 

“The Commission must ensure that EU-funded border-related operations comply with EU law, not just in Croatia, but at all EU borders,” said Eve Geddie.

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Croatia is a beneficiary of more than 108 million EURO under EU’s Asylum Migration and International Fund (AMIF) and has received an additional 46 million EURO in emergency assistance for migration and border management since 2017.

In December, the Council of Europe’s Committee against Torture confirmed that Croatian authorities have assaulted refugees and migrants and denied them access to asylum. They also criticised the authorities for failing to conduct thorough and timely investigations into complaints of police misconduct.