IWB for Refugees: Croatia
Summary of the national legislation on refugees
The first Law on Asylum in the Republic of Croatia was enacted in 2003, and was amended in 2007. Croatia regulated the asylum-seeking process through the Law on Asylum until July 1st 2015, when the now valid Law on International and Temporary Protection (LITP) came into force. LITP was amended in December 2017 and as such enacted as of January 1st 2018. LITP transposes the following EU Directives into Croatian legislation:
- Council Directive 2001/55/EC of 20 July 2001 on minimum standards for giving temporary protection in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons and on measures promoting a balance of efforts between Member States in receiving such persons and bearing the consequences thereof;
- Directive 2003/86/EC of 22 September 2003 on the right to family reunification;
- Directive 2011/95/EU of the European Parliament and the Council of 13 December 2011 on standards for the qualification of third-country nationals or stateless persons as beneficiaries of international protection, for a uniform status for refugees or for persons eligible for subsidiary protection, and for the content of the protection granted;
- Directive 2013/32/EU of the European Parliament and Council of 26 June 2013 on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection (recast);
- Directive 2013/33/EU of the European Parliament and the Council of 26 June 2013 laying down standards for the reception of applicants for international protection (recast).
Also, LITP regulates the application of the following EU regulations:
- Commission Regulation (EC) No. 1560/2003 of 2 September 2003 laying down detailed rules for the application of Council Regulation (EC) No. 343/2003 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national (SL L 222, 5.9.2003)
- Regulation (EU) No. 603/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 on the establishment of 'Eurodac' for the comparison of fingerprints for the effective application of Regulation (EU) No. 604/2013 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person and on requests for the comparison with Eurodac data by Member States' law enforcement authorities and Europol for law enforcement purposes, and amending Regulation (EU) No. 1077/2011 establishing a European Agency for the operational management of large-scale IT systems in the area of freedom, security and justice (recast);
- No. 604/2013 of the European Parliament and the Council of 26 June 2013 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national or a stateless person (recast);
- Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No. 118/2014 of 30 January 2014 amending Regulation (EU) No. 1560/2003 laying down detailed rules for the application of Council Regulation (EC) No. 343/2003 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national (SL L 39, 8.2.2014).
The law called the Foreigners Act, amended May 15th 2018, is also relevant to living conditions of foreigners under international and temporary protection in Croatia. Article 3 of LITP states: “The provisions of the Foreigners Act shall apply mutatis mutandis to applicants for international protection, asylees, foreigners under subsidiary protection and foreigners under temporary protection”. Article 37 of LITP ensures that, if international protection is denied, ceased or revoked, the measures of return are prescribed according to the Foreigners Act, even though priority is given to voluntary departure. Also, by Article 62 and Article 78, paragraph 8 of LITP, applicants for international protection and foreigners under subsidiary protection may be given a special travel document, pursuant of the Foreigners Act.
From interviews held with NGO representatives who provide legal aid to applicants for international protection and refugees and migrants in detention centres, a worker from the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Croatia, talks with refugees and other activists, it is safe to say several problems exist in the current practice of Croatian legislation dealing with applicants for and foreign nationals under international protection, as well as third-country migrants.
The biggest systemic issue Croatia has been called on multiple times by various NGOs, activists and representatives of EU bodies is border violence and push-backs. Croatia is a so-called transit country along the (Western) Balkan route. The route is an active one and Croatia’s neighbouring country Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently facing problems with the reception of and hosting migrants, as Croatia is not allowing migrants to pass through or enter the country. Numerous reports have been made about push-backs, better known as collective expulsions. UNHCR Serbia publishes monthly update reports and their reports, too - solely from January 2019 to May 2019 - count a total of 1,590 collective expulsions from Croatia to Serbia. Though the statistic in the reports is not segregated when it comes to alleged denial of access to asylum procedures and maltreatment by authorities of neighbouring countries, considering the high percentages of both and the number of allegations coming from multiple independent parts, it is safe to conclude that Croatia is not the exception. When The Guardian asked Croatia’s Ministry of Interior (MUP) for a comment on the allegations, the minister’s response was that the migrants were coming into conflicts themselves and harming each other.
As the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states in its Article 19; “Collective expulsions are prohibited”. Furthermore, the Croatian Foreigners Act states in Article 106, paragraph 4 that if a decision has been made regarding the deportation of a foreign national and the person expresses the intention to apply for international protection, the decision on deportation is to be put on hold until the process of testing the application is fully completed. Therefore, not only are these tactics a way of disabling people to apply for international protection and regulate their stay in Croatia, but as Amnesty International states on their website: “[...] widespread pushbacks and collective expulsions [...] are also a part of the systemic and deliberate policy of the Croatian authorities to discourage future irregular entries and demonstrate that Croatia can effectively protect the EU’s external border.”
Apart from refugees’ statements, video recordings have also been gathered as a source of evidence of the illegal pushback practice. In November 2018, The Guardian shared videos recorded by refugees themselves trying to cross the border, in which the men are shown in a forest with bloody noses and other bruises. More footage arrived in December 2018, filmed between September 29th and October 10th of that year, which seem to show at least 54 pushback operations. In an open statement regarding the footage from December, MUP stated that the footage does not show anything illegal and that the police officers were acting accordingly to Article 13 of the Schengen Borders Code (SBC) which prescribes the institute of discouragement.
Though even the SBC states in Article 14 that its application does not call into question the application of special provisions on the right to asylum and international protection, in this case, unfortunately, the use of this law is not the case as Article 13 of SBC requires the persons caught in an irregular crossing of the border to be apprehended and treated accordingly to Directive 2008/115/EC on common standards and procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third-country nationals. Article 8, paragraph 4 of Directive 2008/115/EC states that: “Where Member States use — as a last resort — coercive measures to carry out the removal of a third-country national who resists removal, such measures shall be proportionate and shall not exceed reasonable force. They shall be implemented as provided for in national legislation in accordance with fundamental rights and with due respect for the dignity and physical integrity of the third-country national concerned”, and Article 13 states that: “The third-country national concerned shall be afforded an effective remedy to appeal against or seek review of decisions related to return, as referred to in Article 12(1), before a competent judicial or administrative authority or a competent body composed of members who are impartial and who enjoy safeguards of independence.”
According to the 2002 BiH and Croatia readmission agreement, both countries are obligated to readmit each other’s foreign nationals if the foreign nationals entered the country irregularly and through the other’s territory. The other condition under which they must do the same is when the foreign national applied for international protection in the other country. They are not obligated to readmit the foreign national if their expulsion has earlier already been ordered. Since the readmission can occur only on international border crossings of the countries, while reported (and recorded) pushbacks largely happen in forest area, this is yet another indicator that the border police officers are in breach of their power.
As explained in the legal annex to the “5th report on pushbacks and violence from the Republic of Croatia: illegal practices and systemic human rights violations at EU borders” of the Croatian Welcome Initiative: “[...] European legislation, as well as Croatian national law, clearly and unequivocally prescribes the standards and obligations of the state in dealing with irregular third-country nationals. It is clearly indicated when and why the return process is being conducted and how. Also, the Directive explicitly refers to the Charter of Fundamental Rights and its prohibition of collective expulsion. So, in situations in which the Ministry of the Interior wants to return people who have illegally crossed the border, and in a situation where there indeed are not refugees who would seek international protection in Croatia, they are obliged to conduct an individual procedure for each person, in accordance to the Foreigners Act, and specific return measures in accordance with the Rules on the treatment of third-country nationals, as well as the Readmission Agreement (the Law on the Confirmation of the Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Croatia and the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the acceptance of persons whose entry or stay is illegal).”
Another video recording surfaced in April 2019, when Swiss reporter Nicole Voegele gathered evidence showing the Croatian police pushback at least 70 migrants in the period of two days she and her crew were filming, yet MUP denied the illegality of their activities once again. The only time when any accusations were confirmed is when a video spread through social media, recorded by a police officer forcing migrants to chant the name of the capital’s football club and the chant of the WWII fascist Croatian regime. MUP declared that the policeman who was filming would leave the service, while the other three would go through a disciplinary procedure.
Apart from alarming practices on the border, another worrying trend is the rise of criminalization of humanitarian assistance towards refugees and migrants. By the Council Directive 2002/90/EC of 28 November 2002 defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence, even though member states are obligated to sanction any person who is the instigator of, an accomplice in or attempts to provide assistance to a third-country national in illegal entry, stay or residence - be it for financial gain or not - paragraph 2 of Article 1 says that Member States can independently decide whether or not they wish to impose sanctions in cases “[...] where the aim of the behaviour is to provide humanitarian assistance to the person concerned”. The Directive, together with the Council framework Decision of 28 November 2002 on the strengthening of the penal framework to prevent the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence (2002/946/PUP), constitutes the Facilitators Package. Article 6 of the Council framework Decision (2002/946/PUP) explains that its application must not interfere with international law on refugees or other international instruments relating to human rights. The case of the volunteer of NGO Are You Syrious (AYS), Dragan Umičević, is told in more detail in the chapter “Follow-up on the refugee crisis” of this report. For his assistance to the Hosseini family, who have brought Croatia before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in 2018, Mr Umičević was sanctioned by a first instance verdict with a fine of 60,000 HRK (8,110 EUR).
Pressures were also put on the Centre for Peace Studies Zagreb (CPS), an organisation which has been providing legal assistance and integration activities for applicants and asylees for 15 years now. In late 2018, MUP decided not to prolong the cooperation agreement with CPS, because of which the organisation no longer has access to the Reception Centre in Zagreb. The organisation’s press release stated: “CPS warns that the Ministry of the Interior’s argument that there are currently sufficient activities being organized by other NGOs in Reception Centres is inadequate, as many activities are not available to all refugees, especially those in the reception centre in Kutina. Refugee needs were analysed for the development of the National Action Plan for Integration currently in force. Many organizations and institutions participated in the drafting of the National Action Plan, whose measures were not altered, and include measures for which CPS is co-responsible. Ironically, although this latest move of [MUP] jeopardizes the implementation of the Action Plan, the Ministry of the Interior itself is responsible for the execution of some of the measures outlined in the Plan”.
Though MUP defends their decision by claiming that there is already a sufficient number of organisations providing the kind of activities CPS offers and that, because of reconstruction of the Reception Centre, there is not enough room for them, this kind of argumentation is not convincing. Further evidence for this act being an instrument of political pressure is MUP’s later decision not to prolong the cooperation agreement with NGO AYS whose work with refugee children is especially important. In the Ministry’s statement the same reasons for the decision were given as for CPS - lack of space and lack of need for their presence there. Even though numerous letters of support were given in an attempt to change MUP’s decision - one of the letters even came from another organisation which operates in the Reception Centre - the decision remains until further.
It is important to note here that these two organisations are the most active ones in calling out border violence and the lack of respect for human rights of refugees. For these reasons, the Ministry’s decisions seem to be an attempt to silence them. The House of Human Rights Zagreb reported in their 2018 annual report on the condition of human rights in Croatia that the advocates of human rights of refugees were particularly jeopardized; NGOs and activists were victims of verbal abuse and threats, their work spaces have been vandalized, laws have been interpreted in a way to make them appear as smugglers and these allegations are depicted in the media in a tendentious manner which furthers delegitimizes their work and experience. Also, when escorting applicants for international protection to police station, activists and volunteers have unjustifiably been held and questioned by police.
Problems are detected also in the field of integration. LITP provides refugees, i.e. asylees and foreigners under subsidiary protection a set of rights which includes: residence, work, health care, education, social welfare, family reunification, accommodation, assistance for integration into society, free legal assistance, freedom of religion, ownership of real property and acquisition of Croatian citizenship. This set of rights makes up the legal framework of the refugees’ process of integration.
Though the Republic of Croatia currently has a policy document - the Action plan for integration of persons who have been granted international protection for the period from 2017 to 2019 - which regulates the integration process, its stakeholders and their activities, it does not mention the fact that this policy was enacted after a 2 year gap, since the Migration policy of the Republic of Croatia for the period from 2013 to 2015. The Republic of Croatia currently does not have a migration policy and the new Action plan for integration does not recognize applicants for international protection as a vulnerable group of people.
The Croatian Law Centre (CLC), which cooperates with UNHCR, analysed the previous migration policy and they concluded that: “The policy conceived does not take a holistic approach towards migration, but it instead deals with it departmentally (the Ministry of Interior). The policy is not formulated inside a framework of a long-term, strategic plan of development of the Republic of Croatia, as its component and determined rank of priority. The objectives of the policy are not clear enough nor are the deadlines of their achievement. The same can be said for the indicators of progress within the given deadlines, as well as the quantitative and qualitative measures of expected results.”
It should be underscored that even the previous migration policy included the implementation of a Curriculum of Croatian language for persons over the age of 15 on the level of all counties as one of the measures which should have ensured effective integration, yet in the moment of writing this in 2019 this measure still has not been secured. Refugees are able to attend language courses only in the capital’s area. Refugees in Zagreb can get help for language learning from volunteers in NGOs as AYS and JRS’s integration centre “SOL”, while applicants for international protection can attend classes in the reception centres. One other option is the Croaticum centre for Croatian as a second and foreign language on the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences Zagreb which started organising classes for refugees as a result of acknowledging that knowledge of Croatian language actively remains the biggest challenge for refugees’ integration into Croatian society. This is also a legal issue since Article 64, paragraph 4, point 4 of LITP and Article 74, paragraph 1 clearly state that attendance of a course in Croatian language, history and culture is a mandatory activity for asylees and foreigners under subsidiary protection. Furthermore, Article 74, paragraph 2 says: “In the case of failure to fulfil the obligation referred to in paragraph 1 of Article, the asylee or foreigner under subsidiary protection shall repay the costs of the course to the ministry competent for education.” From the information gathered, this institute of sanctioning has not been applied yet, but the fact that people could legally be sanctioned for not attending a class which does not exist goes to show the shortcoming of the system itself.
Refugees, adults and children, have an especially hard time finding work and getting certified acknowledgement of their level of education. Directive 2011/95/EU in Article 28, paragraph 2 lays down that if refugees do not own documentary evidence of their qualifications, the country which provides them asylum is obliged to provide an appropriate scheme for the assessment, validation and accreditation of their prior learning. Though children are tested before enrolment in school, the test assesses purely mathematical and logical capabilities, which is not sufficient. This is especially true for children in ages appropriate for higher grades because they are enrolled automatically in school no matter of their knowledge of Croatian language. Adults, on the other hand, do not have access to these schemes as enrolment in high schools in Croatia is not possible after turning 18 and the process of nostrification of degrees is too expensive for most people. This leaves refugees incapable of finding work and becoming independent members of society. Only 19 asylees have been employed from the period of 2012 to September 2018 with the help of active measures for employment.
To add on to that, the social benefit scheme is highly demotivating for refugees because, as soon as they find a job, they cannot receive the already inexcusably low monthly financial help of 100 HRK (13.5 EUR). Also, applicants for international protection cannot start working legally in Croatia until 9 months passes from the starting day of their application. Directive 2013/33/EU states in Article 15, paragraph 1 that nine months is the maximum period before which applicants should be given access to the labour market.
Medecins du Monde (MdM) published results on their research of mental health of asylum seekers in Croatia in February 2019 and the results show that 57.83% of the interviewed asylum seekers suffer from anxiety; 67.47% of them express depression symptoms; and 50.61% have symptoms of the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Directive 2013/33/EU obliges Member States to provide applicants with necessary health care which includes appropriate mental health care, yet the levels of distress MdM report applicants experience in Croatia is clear evidence that more needs to be done. Workers from NGOs report that health care is in general hard to access for asylum seekers and refugees in Croatia, as health care providers can be discriminating.
The same goes for finding accommodation. Article 32, paragraph 2 of Directive 2011/95/EU encourages Member States to develop strategies to secure that beneficiaries of international protection do not experience discrimination on the housing market, yet Croatia is lacking of these kinds of strategies. The current Action plan for integration explains that the Central State Office for Reconstruction and Housing provides accommodation for refugees in one of three ways: using state-owned housing units in the locations defined by the relocation plan; collecting offers on the free market; and using offers for housing units advertised in the press and electronic media and from real-estate agencies. It further says: “Since the possibilities for using housing units in state ownership are limited, they will mostly be provided through the public call for tenders, according to the relocation plan, or using offers in the press and electronic media, in cases when it is not possible to provide housing in any other way”.
This model is highly unsustainable and more efforts must be made to provide state-owned housing. Article 67, paragraph 4 of LITP states that: “Asylees and foreigners under subsidiary protection have the right to accommodation for a maximum period of two years from the date on which the decision approving international protection is served.” Because of the state finding housing through the free market and not counting the start of the 2-year period from the day refugees move into their accommodation, most refugees have their accommodation costs covered for less than 2 years as they spend substantial time waiting for news on their housing situation. They are further discouraged to find work as they have to participate in covering the cost of housing and bills as soon as they start working.
 https://narodne-novine.nn.hr/clanci/sluzbeni/2017_12_127_2880.html ; English version: https://www.refworld.org/docid/4e8044fd2.html
 Croatian: “Zakon o strancima”; additional English translations are: “Law on Foreigners”, “Aliens Act”; https://narodne-novine.nn.hr/clanci/sluzbeni/full/2011_11_130_2600.html ; English version: http://www.tranexp.hr/PDF/The_Aliens_Act_2013.pdf
 A detention centre in Croatia is called “Tranzitni prihvatni centar”.
 So-called” because it is my opinion that the term "transit country" should be challenged. The conditions of reception and possibilities of integration influence migrants’ perception of a country. Therefore, if a country is overlooked as one of transit, it is easy to fall into the trap of not analysing and changing the conditions under which it became and stayed a transit country.
 https://frontex.europa.eu/along-eu-borders/migratory-routes/western-balkan-route/ ; https://frontex.europa.eu/along-eu-borders/migratory-map/
 BiH’s most popular media house regularly reports on the subject: https://www.klix.ba/tagovi/migranti/19106 . Deutsche Welle also reported the change in situation in June 2019: https://www.dw.com/en/held-back-from-eu-by-croatia-refugees-stuck-in-bosnia/a-49250813 . For more information about human rights of migrants and refugees in BiH, see: Mlinarević, Gorana and Ahmetašević, Nidžara. 2019. “People on the Move in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2018: Stuck in the Corridors to the EU”. / https://ba.boell.org/en/2019/02/21/people-move-bosnia-and-herzegovina-2018-stuck-corridors-eu
 Member organisations of the Welcome Initiative from Croatia recently published their “5th report on pushbacks and violence from the Republic of Croatia: illegal practices and systemic human rights violations at EU borders” / https://www.cms.hr/system/article_document/doc/597/5_5TH_REPORT_ON_PUSHBACKS_AND_VIOLENCE_20052019.pdf ; No Name Kitchen publishes monthly online violence reports / https://www.nonamekitchen.org/en/violence-reports/ ; a Slovenian civil initiative reported on the collusion of Slovenian and Croatian border police / https://docs.google.com/document/d/148z8ZiJVyLuu6QWWeokEYny44-rFnEXkTfJtd8Z-bfM/edit
 UNHCR Serbia Update January 2019 (241 collective expulsions from Croatia), February 2019 (260 collective expulsions from Croatia), March 2019 (374 collective expulsions from Croatia), April 2019 (431 collective expulsions from Croatia), May 2019 (284 collective expulsions from Croatia): http://www.unhcr.rs/dokumenti/izvestaji/unhcr-serbia-updates.html
 Croatian translation of the institute: “odvraćanje”
 http://sps.gov.ba/dokumenti/medjunarodni/Sporazum%20o%20readmisiji%20BiH%20-%20Hrvatska.pdf (articles 5, 7, 8, 10)
 See https://pushbackmap.org/
 Page 24: https://www.cms.hr/system/article_document/doc/597/5_5TH_REPORT_ON_PUSHBACKS_AND_VIOLENCE_20052019.pdf
 https://www.srf.ch/news/international/ausschaffung-ueber-gruene-grenze-kroatische-polizei-bei-illegaler-abschiebung-gefilmt ; http://hr.n1info.com/English/NEWS/a402658/Swiss-television-talks-to-migrants-describing-Croatian-police-pushbacks.html
 Paragraphs 43 through 45: http://www.kucaljudskihprava.hr/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Ljudska-prava-u-Hrvatskoj-2018.pdf
 Paragraph 298: http://www.kucaljudskihprava.hr/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Ljudska-prava-u-Hrvatskoj-2018.pdf
 Croatian original: Hrvatski pravni centar (HPC)
 Ibid. Page 10. Translated from Croatian to English by the author of this report.
 Croatian original: Nastavni plan i program hrvatskog jezika za osobe starije od 15 godina na razini svih županija
 Paragraph 315: http://www.kucaljudskihprava.hr/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Ljudska-prava-u-Hrvatskoj-2018.pdf
 Page 41: https://www.irh.hr/dokumenti/49-akcijski-plan-za-integraciju-osoba-kojima-je-odobrena-medunarodna-zastita-za-tisak/file
Refugee life in Croatia
- Number of people with refugee status
In 2018, 225 asylum seekers have been granted refugee status in Croatia according to the Ministry of Interior.
- Top 5 countries refugees are coming from (in 2018)
1. Afghanistan (236)
2. Syria (223)
3. Iran (149)
4. Iraq (91)
5. Algeria (82)
- What are the living conditions for example housing?
In Croatia there are two reception centres, one in Zagreb and one in Kutina. The capacity of the two reception centres combined is 700; the one in Zagreb is 600 while the one in Kutina is 100.
There are no other types of accommodation than these two reception centres which are used both in the regular and in the accelerated asylum procedure.
Both reception centres are managed by the Ministry of Interior and the reception centre in Kutina is the one used for accommodating vulnerable groups.
Croatia obtained funding to build a third reception centre which will be built in Mala Goric, near Petrinja.
Important to mention is the fact that there have not been cases of not having access to reception accommodation because there was a shortage of places.
One of the complaints made by the Rehabilitation Centre for Stress and Trauma is that the centre is not appropriate for families with children.
Furthermore, the Welcome Initiative found the reception conditions in Kutina problematic because the resettled applicants who undergo an accelerated procedure and who receive support from the International Organization for Migration are accommodated together with asylum seekers who undergo the standard procedure. This has been complained about by other asylum seekers who consider it to be an unfair measure.
Asylum seekers in these centres can go outside but they have to return to the centre by 11pm. If they want to stay out until after 11pm or leave the centre for a couple of days they need the permission of the Reception Centre.
People in the reception centres share a room.
In Kutina families share a room, unaccompanied children and single women are accommodated separately in rooms, while in Zagreb a maximum of 4 persons can share a room. Families are accommodated in the same room but in Zagreb if there are more than 5 members of one family there are given 2 rooms when this is possible.
The Croatian Red Cross mentioned that there are no problems with the asylum centre in Kutina, while there is a problem with the asylum centre in Zagreb caused by its infrastructure and the ongoing reconstruction of the facility.
The living conditions in these centres have improved also due to the fact that the Red Cross and other donors purchased various equipment to improve the life of people staying there (ex: material for creative workshops, televisions for common spaces, etc.)
In these centres asylum seekers are given food three times a day and there is a room for Muslim asylum seekers to pray in.
According to the Red Cross the staffs employed in these centres are involving asylum seekers in various socio-cultural activities (introduction to Croatian culture workshop, sports activities, library sessions, etc.) and they are also offering them daily psychological support.
- Are the people with an official refugee status allowed to work? If yes, is there assistance for finding employment? Are refugees offered language lessons?
Yes people with an official refugee status are allowed to work.
The law also specifies that applicants for asylum have the right to work nine months from the day they lodged the application in cases where the Ministry of Interior has still not rendered any decision, and if the reason that the procedure has not been completed is not due to the mistake of the applicant.
Furthermore, these applicants do not need to have a residence or a work permit or a work registration certificate until the decision of their application is final.
The Ministry of Interior also has to issue a document at the request of an applicant in order to certify that the applicant has obtained the right to work. If the applicant does not meet the conditions requested by the law, the Ministry will refuse to issue this certificate.
- Do refugees or their children have the right to attend schools, universities, etc.?
The right to education is a constitutional right for all children in Croatia. According to the LITP, only child applicants (i.e. those under 18) are entitled to primary and secondary education.
In order to be eligible you have to apply under the same conditions as Croatian nationals which means that you have to lodge an application, and within 30 days you will be granted access.
There have been reported impediments to accessing secondary education for asylum-seeking children. The biggest problem when accessing school is still represented by the language barrier, but there has been progress in the last few years, and children access the educational system more easily at the moment.
In order to solve those impediments, measures have been taken. Child applicants have also been entitled to specific assistance to learn the national language and to make up for the knowledge they might lack in different school subjects, as preparatory and supplementary classes.
- Is the state obliged to provide asylum seekers with healthcare?
According to the legislation access to emergency medical care is provided, but in practice asylum seekers have limited access to health care. Furthermore the state does not provide for special treatment for victims of human trafficking.
According to the law, asylum seekers benefit from emergency care and other treatment necessary for various mental disorders.
Medical assistance is provided thus in two asylum centres in the country; in Zagreb and Kutina, where care institutions regulated by the Ministry of Interior.
Important to mention is the fact that in the health care centre, a family medical ambulance has been designated for the primary health care for chronic and life threating illnesses.
There is also a specialist ambulance for vulnerable groups which has been appointed by the Ministry of Health and Local Health Centres.
If needed, asylum seekers are also referred to local hospitals; in Sisak for those accommodated in Kutina, and also in the hospital of Zagreb.
Vaccination is also performed by doctors in health centres or by specialists in schools of medicine.
In order to be able to offer better services, the Ministry of Interior has concluded agreements with NGOs who provide psycho-social support and counselling at the Reception Centres in Zagreb and Kutina, buy supplies for the work of the ambulance in the Reception Centre and offer transfers to healthcare institutions.
The Red Cross is also providing medical assistance in collaboration with the other entities involved. The organization insures trasfers to health institutions, interpretation for Arabic and Farsi, purchase of medication, medical prostheses and supplementary food for infants and people with dietary restrictions.
- Do refugees experience obstacles with regard to issues like social life, personal wellbeing, freedom, etc.?
Based on my findings I would say not more than in other European countries. There are language barriers or cultural differences but these aspects cannot be regulated.
The legal process
The foreigner has to apply for asylum.
After the foreigner applies for asylum, the police officers or officials from the reception centres have to take his fingerprints and his photograph in order to establish his identity, how he entered into the country, the travel route from the country of origin to Croatia and all the personal circumstances for assessing the special reception and procedural guarantees.
Border officers, the police station, police administration or the Reception Centre shall register the applicant in the records of the Ministry of Interior no later than 3 working days from the day the applicant expressed his intention to apply.
The authority in charge will issue a certificate of registration and shall set a time limit in which the applicant must report to the Reception Centre for Applicants for International Protection to lodge an application.
Applicants are allowed to lodge an application no later than 15 days from the registration of their status in the records of the Ministry of Interior.
First instance procedure
After the application has been made, the Asylum Department of the Ministry of Interior shall arrange a personal interview with the applicant as soon as possible and shall issue a decision within 6 months. The 6-month period can be extended by 9 months under certain circumstances, and with exceptions it can be extended up to 21 months. The Asylum Department is also in charge of verifying the Dublin criteria and carrying out Dublin transfers to another Member States.
An application can also be processed under an accelerated or border procedure.
The first instance decision can be a decision by which the Ministry of Interior:
- Grants asylum;
- Grants subsidiary protection;
- Rejects the application if the applicant does not meet the conditions for asylum and subsidiary protection;
- Rejects the application if the conditions are met for exclusion;
- Rejects the application as manifestly unfounded;
- Dismisses an asylum application as inadmissible;
- Suspends the procedure.
The time limit to render a decision is 6 months but the time limit can be extended for additional 9 plus 3 months. It can be extended for 9 more months if:
(a) The application includes complex facts and/or legal issues;
(b) A large number of third-country nationals or stateless persons are requesting international protection at the same time;
(c) The applicant, through his or her actions, contrary to his or her obligations as applicant, causes the time limit to be extended.
However, this time limit may be extended for a further 3 months exclusively in order to ensure the complete consideration of the application.
Applications made by unaccompanied children are prioritized when processing their asylum request. Same is the case for asylum seekers coming from Turkey.
There is always an interview with the applicant and always an interpreter there if needed. Initially there is a short interview conducted by the Reception Centre for Asylum Seekers. After that there is a more extensive interview conducted by the Asylum Department of the Ministry of Interior.
There have been complaints that the translation is not always the best with interpreters since in most cases there is need for an interpreter but there are no standards prescribed in the past with regard to the qualifications of interpreters in the procedure for international protection.
According to the law, the Ministry shall render a decision in an accelerated procedure no later than two months after the application has been made. Furthermore, there are 10 grounds for accepting the accelerated procedure and if the applicant is denied the accelerated procedure he has eight days to appeal.
As already mentioned, border procedures exist in the legislation but do not exist in practice.
Negative decisions can be appealed before the Administrative Court within 30 days in the regular procedure and eight days in the case of Dublin decisions, inadmissibility decisions or the accelerated procedure.
Appeals have a suspensive effect in the regular procedure, Dublin cases and some inadmissibility cases, but not in accelerated procedures.
Aside from lodging a complaint in front of the Administrative Court, the applicant can lodge a complaint before the Constitutional Court in case the applicant claims a violation of a right which is guaranteed by the Croatian Constitution. But it is not common in practice for an applicant to file a complaint at the Constitutional Court since it is often hard to regularize their stay based on the Law on Foreigners since most of them would not meet the conditions which are prescribed by the law.
Each asylum case is examined by a single judge and judges are not generally trained on asylum.
The outcomes of the administrative dispute can be that the appeal is:
- dismissed as inadmissible (and therefore not decided on the merits),
- rejected (i.e. decided negatively on the merits),
If the appeal is allowed, the Court has two options, either refer the case back to the Ministry of Interior for the review procedure, or it can change the decision by itself, meaning that the result is granting refugee or subsidiary protection status.
Onward Appeal before the High Administrative Court
Applicants can lodge a further appeal against the Administrative Court decision before a High Administrative Court. This appeal does not have suspensive effect.
Important to mention is the fact that there is no publicly available data on how this functions in practice.
Asylum seekers have access to free legal assistance on appeals against a negative decision. This includes both legal advice and representation in Court.
Application of the Dublin Criteria
Croatia does not use any national legislation to incorporate the Dublin III Regulation, as it is directly applicable, but refers to it in Articles 2 and 43 LITP, specifying that the application will be dismissed if the responsibility of another Member State has been established.
Under the Dublin regulation a transfer takes around two months after the responsible state has accepted responsibility.
Applicants are informed about Dublin and Eurodac when they express their intention to apply according to the Ministry of Interior.
The transfer to the responsible Member State is conducted by the Dublin Unit of the Ministry of Interior, together with the Member State which is receiving the applicant. This transfer is done usually under the escort of two police officers or in the cases of voluntary transfer of a minor it could be arranged that a staff member of the Dublin Unit escorts the minor.
There is no special interview under the Dublin procedure. If for example there is a hit in the Eurodac system and the asylum seeker has not mentioned it, then an additional interview will be conducted.
The complaint must be lodged before the Administrative Court within eight days from the delivery of the decision.
Neither in this situation are judges or courts specialized in asylum law.
Generally speaking there are also hearings under the Dublin procedure, but the oral procedure can also be conducted under absentia.
Asylum seekers have access to free legal assistance on appeals against a Dublin decision in practice.
It is possible for the Asylum Department to take a decision without entering into a further in-depth examination of the asylum application (i.e. an examination on the merits) when the grounds for the dismissal of the application are met. Those grounds are the following:
(1) The applicant has been granted international protection in another member state of the European Economic Area;
(2) The applicant has been granted international protection in a third state whose rights he or she still enjoys, including the guarantees stemming from non-refoulement, provided that he or she will be received back into that state;
(3) It is possible to apply the concept of Safe Third Country;
(4) It is possible to apply the concept of European safe third country;
(5) The responsibility of another member state of the European Economic Area is established to consider the application;
(6) The application was lodged by a national of a member state of the European Union.
In most admissibility cases personal interviews are not conducted.
The admissibility procedure can be appealed in 8 days after the decision of the Ministry of Interior.
Asylum seekers have access to free legal assistance on appeal against an inadmissibility decision in practice.
Border authorities receive written instructions on the referral of asylum seekers to the competent authorities.
The maximum time limit for a first instance decision laid down in the law is four weeks.
Since the border procedure is not happening now, it is hard to see how this would look in the future.
A border procedure can be appealed within five days from the delivery of the decision.
The Minister shall deliver the case file no later than eight days from the day of the receipt of the decision by which the Administrative Court requests the case file. The Administrative Court shall render a judgement within 8 days from the day of the receipt of the case file.
Asylum seekers have access to free legal assistance on appeals against a negative decision in practice.
According to the LITP, the Ministry shall make a decision in an accelerated procedure where:
1. The applicant has presented only facts which are irrelevant to an assessment of the merits of the application;
2. The applicant has consciously misled the Ministry by presenting false information or unreliable documents, or by not providing relevant information or by concealing documents which could have had a negative effect on the decision;
3. The applicant in bad faith has probably acted and destroyed documents that establish identity and/or nationality with the aim to provide false information about his or her identity and/or nationality;
4. The applicant has presented inconsistent, contradictory, manifestly inaccurate or unconvincing statements contrary to the verified information on the country of origin, rendering his/her application unreliable;
5. A subsequent application is admissible;
6. The applicant has already resided for a longer period of time in the Republic of Croatia and for no justifiable reason failed to express his or her intention to apply for international protection earlier;
7. The applicant expressed the intention to apply for international protection for the clear purpose of postponing or preventing the enforcement of a decision which would result in his or her expulsion from the Republic of Croatia;
8. The applicant represents a risk for the national security or public order of the Republic of Croatia;
9. It is possible to apply the concept of Safe Country of Origin;
10. The applicant has refused to give fingerprints
The deadline for the accelerated procedure is 2 months, after which the claim is transferred to regular procedure.
There is a personal interview in the accelerated procedure.
The same provisions from the law on the personal interview in a regular procedure apply to the one in accelerated procedures. This means that the interview in accelerated procedure is not held only in specific cases prescribed by the law, for example when:
-A positive decision on application may be taken on the basis of the available evidence;
- In cases when an applicant is unfit or unable to be interviewed, owing to enduring circumstances beyond his or her control;
-The admissibility of a subsequent application is being assessed
The accelerated procedure can be appealed.
The Administrative Court is the competent appeal body in the accelerated procedure so there is no difference in the authority responsible for handling the appeal compared to regular procedure.
Complaints made against negative decisions in the accelerated procedure do not have suspensive effect.
Asylum seekers have access to free legal assistance on appeal against a negative decision.
Description of what happens if they do not receive the refugee status
Can refugees return to their home country?
Yes they can return to their home country if they want to.
Can they apply for asylum in another EU law country?
In theory, the rejected asylum seeker can travel to another EU country to seek asylum, but due to the Dublin regulation, they are usually sent back to Croatia.
Can they be deported?
If the person is not granted international protection, he can still apply for a residence permit on the grounds of work, study or family relationship.
But the reality is that most rejected asylum seekers face a choice between agreeing to a voluntary return or refusing to leave, in which case they may face detention and possible deportation.
Analysis of how the media depicts the refugees in Croatia
Is there national attention on refugees and the refugee issue?
There has been national attention on refugees and the refugee issue in Croatia. Numerous publications have written about it, not only in the national but also in the international media.
Croatia became the route for migrants coming to Europe when Hungary built a fence on its borders with Serbia, which is not the in European Union.
There has been a strong incentive to protect the Croatian borders from irregular immigration: “Croatia's president met the army chief of staff and required a higher level of alert and the army to be ready, if need be, to protect the national borders from the illegal migration”[i]
How are refugees presented by the media?
In November 2018, 700 organisations, journalists, individuals and public figures signed an open letter condemning the way Croatian media represents refugees and migrants. The criticism claimed that media reports in Croatia were overwhelmingly negative, one-sided, over-simplified and riddled with “fake news”.
An extract from the letter states the following: “Once again, the media has disavowed their crucial social role of representing silenced and marginalised voices, as well as participating in questioning those who are dominant and have power, ignoring the principles of journalistic work additionally defined by the Code of Honour of Croatian Journalists.”[ii]
It expresses concerns over the fact that journalists fail to investigate matters properly and choose to rely on government sources for information on immigration – which according to official EU research itself is lacking and insufficient.[iii]
The absence of critical journalism has created an environment where anti-immigration politicians feel comfortable to spread untruthful information about migrants. Ivan Pernar, from the populist Zivi Zid (“living wall”) party, claimed in a video that stabbings in Germany had gone from 300 to 3,000 per year since the 2015 spike in immigration. However, this claim was fact-checked, and official statistics in Germany show that 2017 was the lowest for stabbing crimes in 25 years.
Is being a country of refuge presented in a negative, neutral or positive way?
There have been issues at the Croatian borders according to Human Rights Watch. Human Rights Watch declared in their report that Croatian border authorities continually turned back asylum seekers who entered Croatia from Serbia and did this without examining any of the asylum requests, thus not respecting international law which gives the right to people to seek asylum.[iv]
Croatian media has also brought reports of physical violence towards migrants before their expulsion, but this has been denied by the Ministry of Interior.
Even if Croatia has obligations under EU law concerning the quota and the redistribution system imposed by the EU, asylum has been rarely granted according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
Furthermore, the same report mentions that there is abuse and violence against migrants who try to cross the Serbian-Croatia border, since Croatia had to deal with a large number of migrants coming from the Middle East, and the western route though Croatia apparently had more than one million travelling through it.
Because of this situation there was a political crisis at EU level which led to the controversial EU agreement with Turkey and the subsequent closure of the Balkan route at the borders of Macedonia, Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. Hungary was the first country to close its borders by building a metal barbed wire fence alongside the borders to Serbia and Croatia.
Following suit, Croatia chose to close its border over the number of people who were travelling between Croatia and Serbia in 2015 when the crisis was at its peak. Because of this situation the EU had to intervene, after which Croatia reopened its border. The sensitive relationship between Serbia and Croatia has been a silent conflict ever since the wars in 1991 and 1995.
Follow-up on the refugee crisis
The subjective perspective
While Croatia does follow international and European law on asylum in certain areas, there are various reasons for concern and criticisms to be made.
Firstly, the access to Croatian territory for individuals who wish to claim asylum has been restricted beyond what is deemed acceptable from a legal and humanitarian perspective. Closing off borders and pushing back people collectively without individual assessment amounts to denying the right to claim asylum which is a serious offence under international law. Reports of physical violence at the border further intensifies this issue, and the criminalisation of those seeking to provide the migrant support which is held back by the state is worrying evidence of the authoritarian approach taken by the Croatian government.
Added to this is the lacking and improper information provided by the government. In a context where critical journalism is hard to come by, this makes for a situation where responsible authorities are not held to account.
Furthermore, once asylum seekers are in the country, they are not always offered appropriate treatment or living conditions. Reports of families accommodated in centres which are not suitable for children serve to underpin this notion; as does the fact that no specialised treatment is available to victims of human trafficking. In terms of means of integration, it is highly problematic that language classes are not provided everywhere refugees are present and the monthly allowance of 13.5 Euros is far from enough to live on.
Finally, the asylum process itself also has issues associated with it. The fact that it is not available to everyone who wishes to seek asylum in the first place is enough to condemn the system in itself, and considering the low number of people who end up being granted asylum is additional reason for concern. The fact that there is no proper standard for interpreters is extremely worrying as often the entire statement on which an asylum case is based depends on accurate translation of all details.
Based on the above points, and the general research as laid out in this report, Croatia still has a long way to go in order to fully comply with international, European and humanitarian standards.
Location: Southern Europe
EU-member since 2013
Currency: HRK (Kuna)
Population under poverty line:
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