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article imageCroatia urged to halt police 'violence' against migrants

By AFP     Oct 5, 2018 in World

The Council of Europe said Friday it has urged Croatia to investigate alleged police abuse of migrants trying to cross its borders.

Zagreb should probe "all recorded cases of collective expulsions and of allegations of violence against migrants," the council's Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic wrote in a letter to Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in September.

The letter said nearly a third of the 2,500 migrants expelled by Croatia this year have reported violence and theft at the hands of police.

Many of them were trying to cross into the EU member state through Bosnia, where around 4,000 migrants have been languishing in make-shift camps for months near the border, making period attempts to pass.

While some slip through, others have been violently pushed back at the Croatian border.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) say migrants have reported numerous accounts of police abuse, saying officers stole their phones and money and beat them with tree branches.

Zagreb has denied any police abuse and said most migrants had left on their own volition.

"No cases of police coercion towards migrants ... nor thefts were established," Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said in a letter to the commissioner.

As an EU member planning to enter the visa-free Schengen zone, Croatia has an "obligation to protect state border from illegal crossings," he added.

According to the minister, 257 migrants have been granted asylum this year.

Hundreds of others who declared an intention to apply -- some 77 percent -- left the country before filling out the paperwork, he added.

The Centre for Peace Studies, a local human rights group, said the letter was a "shame for Croatia," which is currently presiding over the Council of Europe.

It urged the authorities "to stop pretending that nothing happens, conduct efficient probes and stop violating human rights," a statement said.

Croatia was a stop on the so-called Balkans route flooded by hundreds of thousands of migrants who arrived in Europe in 2015 and 2016, fleeing war and poverty across Africa and the Middle East.

The path, which cut through Serbia, was effectively shut down in March 2016.

But smaller numbers of migrants have started to carve a new route through the region, trying to enter Croatia after traversing Bosnia's mountainous terrain.

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