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“Wild animal” violence confronts migrants at the gates of Europe

In northwest Bosnia, migrants aspiring to live in Europe say Croatian police beat them with sticks, threaten them with weapons and steal their belongings. But despite the fear of violence, they will try for the 1,000th time to cross the Croatian border before winter.

“The Croatian police behave like wild animals, they beat everyone, refugees, children, women, young people and the elderly,” Ibrahim Rasoul, 32, who fled Afghanistan four years ago, told AFP.

With dozens of immigrant families, mostly Afghans, Ibrahim lives in a muddy camp in the village of Velika Kladusa near the border with Croatia from where he hopes to enter the European Union.

For years, human rights advocates have accused Croatian police of violently and humiliatingly turning away migrants, withholding refugee testimonies and whistleblowers within the police. Zagreb has consistently denied these accusations.

But after European media recently published pictures showing masked men in military fatigues violently pushing a group of refugees towards Bosnia, the Croatian authorities confirmed that members of the special police appeared in the videos.

Also, Greece and Romania have been accused by these media of their treatment of migrants.

Asian migrants camp on the road in the vicinity of Maljevac border crossing with neighboring Croatia, near Northern-Bosnian town of Velika Kladusa, on October 24, 2018. – In their struggle with large number of in coming migrants, Bosnian authorities have provided two additional capacities, in abandoned army barracks in Hadzici and a former appliance factory in Bihac. Regardless of the authority’s efforts, groups of migrants chose to leave Bosnia and attempt an illegal crossing into neighboring Croatia, hoping to travel further into the EU countries. (Photo by ELVIS BARUKCIC / AFP) (Photo credit should read ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/Getty Images)

tacit consent?

For its part, Brussels demanded investigations. “The Commission strongly rejects all practices of refoulement, which it has always said are illegal,” said Adalbert Jans, a European Commission spokesperson.

But that has not been enough for rights advocates who believe the EU is giving tacit approval to actions that have been going on for too long.

“The influx of migrants does not serve Europe’s interests and their numbers will be reduced if the deterrence process is more violent,” Jasmine Claric, a reporter for the Croatian website Telegram, told AFP.

Croatia and Bosnia lie on the “Balkan Route” for people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

According to Bosnian estimates, since 2018, more than 80,000 migrants have managed to cross its territory into Croatia, heading to the north of the European Union.

But thousands are being returned, and stories abound of violence.

“400 euros”

In Velika Kladusa, there is no water or electricity. A woman warms her feet in front of a fire lit near the camp. With nighttime temperatures dropping to almost zero, the migrants know they have little time left to play a new “game,” as they call their attempts to cross.

If they fail, they will have to spend another winter in one of the official reception centers that Bosnia and Herzegovina opened at the request of the European Commission, which has heating but is far from the border.

Croatian police have returned Ibrahim Rasoul, who arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina a month ago after spending three years in Greece, several times.

“They took all the phones from us and beat us with sticks. They were armed. One of them pointed a gun at my forehead,” he says.

Ibrahim is traveling with two families, 18 people in total including children, and the group once spotted a bear. But these migrants prefer “the jungle and possible confrontation with wild animals to avoid the police, which are more dangerous.”

Amir Ali Mirzai, a 24-year-old musician who left Afghanistan with his family three months ago in the midst of the Taliban attack, told AFP that the police attacked him. to Bosnia.

Croatia said the recent violence filmed by journalists were isolated cases, and announced the arrest of three policemen.

According to human rights activists, violations have increased since the Balkan Route was closed in 2016.

“Fortress of Europe”

“Verbal insults and abuse have become physical violence,” Tia Vidovic of the Center for Peace Studies, a non-governmental organization in Zagreb, told AFP.

Croatia seeks to enter the Schengen area, which enjoys free movement of people between members by 2024, but is required to protect its borders to achieve this.

“Brussels and some countries are hypocritical. They condemn violence but do not want to open their doors to migrants and insist that foreign countries, including Croatia, are preventing them from entering the fortress of Europe,” the Croatian newspaper Visrnje List wrote recently.

According to the Danish Refugee Council, a non-governmental organization, more than 30,000 people have been prevented from crossing from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia since June 2019.

In Velika Kladusa, migrants are determined to reach the European Union before winter when the rivers are swollen with rain.

“It’s cold here,” said Dahir Panahi, 41, who left Kabul two years ago. With his wife and four children, Panahi is preparing for his 29th “game.”

AFP

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