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.
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,