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Croatia: Fear of refoulement / ill-treatment: Muslim refugees in Kuplensko

, N° d'index: EUR 64/013/1995

AI is concerned by continuing reports of refoulement of members of a group of more than 20,000 Muslim refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina who are in a collection centre around Kuplensko. Some have been ill-treated by the Croatian police. The Croatian authorities have refused to formally grant them refugee status and have made it clear that they want them to return as soon as possible. AI fears that the authorities will continue to forcibly return refugees and seek to pressure on them to return.

EXTERNAL AI Index: EUR 64/13/95
EXTRA 147/95 Fear of refoulement / Ill-treatment 24 November 1995
CROATIAMuslim refugees in Kuplensko
Amnesty International is concerned by continuing reports of the refoulement
of members of a group of more than 20,000 Muslim refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina
who are in a collection centre around Kuplensko, south of Vojni_ in Croatia.
Some have been ill-treated by the Croatian police.
In recent weeks small numbers of men have been taken from the camp by paramilitary
Croatian Special Police units guarding it. Some were beaten by the police before
being handed over to the Bosnian authorities who then mobilized them. Around
6 November 1995, 32 men were forcibly returned to Bosnia-Herzegovina in this
manner after a disturbance in the camp.
The Croatian authorities have refused to formally grant them refugee status
and have made it clear that they want them to return as soon as possible. Amnesty
International fears that the authorities will continue to forcibly return
refugees and seek to increase pressure on them to return.
The Croatian and Bosnian authorities have made several agreements on the return
of these people in conjunction with Fikret Abdi_, the rebel Muslim leader who
previously controlled Velika Kladuša. One of the agreements foresees the
establishment of a special zone around Velika Kladuša which will be policed
jointly by officers of the Bosnian Federation, Croatia and Turkey.
The latest agreement, which was made in Dayton, Ohio, USA on 15 November provides
for their return to begin immediately upon the arrival of the Croatian and
Turkish police in Velika Kladuša and for it to be carried out in the "shortest
period of time". Amnesty International is particularly concerned that the
agreement makes no provision for consideration of requests for protection by
individuals who may fear human rights abuses upon their return. The agreement
fails to guarantee the involvement of international agencies such as the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in monitoring their return.
It also fails to provide that returns should be carried out in accordance with
international standards and, specifically, the requirement that repatriation
must be voluntary in each individual case, is not mentioned. Forcible return
of refugees is in breach of international law, in particular the 1951 Convention
Relating to the Status of Refugees.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
The refugees arrived in the Kuplensko/Vojni_ area in early August 1995 after
fleeing from the area of Velika Kladuša in neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Velika Kladuša was previously under the control of armed forces led by the
rebel Muslim leader, Fikret Abdi_, who had broken with the Government in Sarajevo
in 1993 and made a separate peace deal with rebel Serb forces in Bosnia. After
being pushed out of the area into what was then Serbian-controlled Croatia
in autumn 1994 by the Bosnian Army, his forces and the civilian refugees returned
in early 1995 before being pushed out again in August 1995. This time the
neighbouring area of Croatia had been retaken by the Croatian Army and the
area was under Croatian Government control.
The Croatian authorities initially restricted access to the refugees by
international organizations. A collection centre was established in the area
where the refugees had arrived. Conditions in the camp are extremely primitive,
2
but the Croatian authorities have reportedly used bureaucratic obstacles to
hinder international organizations seeking to improve conditions and make it
possible for refugees to survive the winter weather. These measures have
apparently been used to discourage the refugees from remaining. Former Abdi_
soldiers are among the group, some who remain loyal to him have reportedly
intimidated other refugees and still have weapons hidden in the camp.
A program of voluntary return of the refugees under the supervision of the
UNHCR has recently commenced and more than 1,500 people have so far returned
voluntarily.
There are more than 230,000 refugees in Croatia as well as some 230,000 displaced
persons. In recent months Croatia has frequently breached its obligations under
the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of refugees by forcibly returning
refugees to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/telexes/faxes/express/airmail
letters in English, German, French or your own language:
- stating that you aware that the Croatian authorities are forcibly returning
Muslim refugees from the Velika Kladuša area currently in the Kuplensko area
to Bosnia-Herzegovina and that refugees have been beaten by Croatian Special
Police officers;
- reminding them that Croatia is a party to the 1951 Convention relating to
the Status of Refugees and is obliged not to forcibly return any person to
a country where he or she risks serious human rights violations;
- demanding assurances that no individuals will be forcibly returned to
Bosnia-Herzegovina without an individual procedure to determine the risk of
human rights abuses which each person may face, if returned;
- urging that the Croatian authorities cooperate fully with international
agencies seeking to improve conditions for refugees around Kuplensko so as
to help to ensure that all returns are voluntary;
- calling for action to be taken to ensure that refugees are not ill-treated
by Special Police or other officers.
APPEALS TO:
(Minister of Internal Affairs)
Mr Ivan Jarnjak, Ministar
Ministarstvo za unutrašnje poslove Republike Hrvatske
Savska cesta 39
11000 Zagreb, CROATIA
Telegrams: Ministar za unutrašnje poslove, Zagreb, Croatia
Faxes: +385 1 443 715
Salutation: Dear Minister
(Deputy-Premier - Responsible for humanitarian affairs)
Dr Ivica Kostovi_
Zamjenik Predsjednika vlade Republike Hrvatske
Trg Stjepana Radi_a 7
10000 Zagreb, CROATIA
Faxes: +385 1 4550 284
Telegrams: Dr Kostovi_, Zamjenik Predsjednika Vlade, Zagreb, Croatia
Salutation: Dear Minister
(Head of the President's Cabinet)
Hrvoje Šarini_
3
Šef kabineta Predsjednika RH
Pantov_ak 241
10000 Zagreb, CROATIA
Faxes: +385 1 456 5208
Telegrams: Sarinic, Zagreb, Croatia
Salutation: Dear Mr Šarini_
COPIES TO: diplomatic representatives of CROATIA accredited to your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat,
or your section office, if sending appeals after 25 December 1995.

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