Rapporteur, ending Balkan visit, expresses concern at reception centre conditions and questions ‘pushback’ denials

 PACE rapporteur Tineke Strik (Netherlands, SOC), ending a two-day visit to the Balkans, has expressed extreme concern at the conditions in two reception centres for asylum-seekers which she visited in Bosnia and Herzegovina – and has questioned Croatian denials that “pushbacks” onto Bosnian territory are taking place.

“Basic humanitarian conditions are not ensured for the many hundreds of migrants stranded in the centres at Velika Kladuša and Bihac, despite the efforts of international organisations and NGOs,” said Ms Strik, following a two-country visit to Croatia and to Bosnia and Herzegovina on 27-28 March 2019. “More solidarity is needed from EU and Council of Europe member states to ensure human rights and dignity for these people.”

Ms Strik was researching a case study on border policies and practices in the framework of a report for the Parliamentary Assembly on “Pushback action by Council of Europe member States”.

Following a separate visit to one of two reception centres for asylum-seekers in the Croatian capital Zagreb, the rapporteur commented: “I thank the Croatian delegation to PACE for its support and for organising such informative meetings with the authorities, as well as this visit. I found the centre well-managed, but serious problems remain with the length of the asylum procedure and other procedural safeguards as well as the provision of specialist health care and psychological support.”

Ms Strik said many of the migrants stuck in Bosnia and Herzegovina reported being violently pushed back by the Croatian authorities to Bosnian territory without the possibility of submitting an asylum claim. Due to deficiencies in asylum procedure in Bosnia and Herzegovina, their protection needs are not adequately assessed or addressed, she added.

“Although the Croatian authorities deny any involvement in pushing migrants from Croatian territory back to Bosnia and Herzegovina, other actors on the ground show evidence that pushbacks are indeed taking place and that violence is perpetrated regularly against migrants stopped in the border area,” she said.

“The discrepancy between the statements of the Croatian authorities and the worrying and consistent reports by other actors remains problematic and will be further analysed in my report.”

In Zagreb, Ms Strik met with Croatian Government authorities and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Croatian Parliament, as well as the Deputy Ombudsperson. She also met and held an exchange of views with UNHCR’s Croatian representative and the UNHCR Regional Representative and Deputy Representative for Central Europe. In the Zagreb reception centre, she met with Médecins du Monde (Belgium) and with several NGOs working with migrants and asylum-seekers. She also held interviews with the Croatian local (Cetingrad) and regional (Una Sana) border police.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ms Strik was guided by UNHCR and IOM in visits to the Miral Reception centre in Velika Kladuša, the Sedra converted hotel centre in the region and the Bira Centre in Bihac. Meetings in these locations included the Danish Refugee Council, the Mayor of Bihac, Unicef and Save the Children.

Ms Strik’s report will be debated at the Assembly’s June session.