Brussels (Brussels Morning) The European Commission has called for an investigation into alleged illegal pushback practices conducted by the police forces of Croatia and Greece, after an exhaustive report by German and Croatian media appeared to show police beating and forcing out migrants caught in their territory.
An investigation by Germany’s Der Spiegel and ARD, in cooperation with Croatia’s Novosti and RTL, recorded what appear to be 11 pushbacks by Croatian police forcing migrants back across the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Further video evidence shows the Greek coast guard pushing migrants back into the Aegean Sea.
The Croatian footage shows men clad in unmarked uniforms, equipped with police batons and sidearms, wearing balaclavas, violently beating migrants caught in Croatian territory before sending them back across the border. The media involved, having also talked to sources within the police, claim that the footage shows members of the Croatian special police.
An EC spokesman emphasised that the Commission strongly opposes any pushback practices and has repeatedly stressed that they are illegal. “The national authorities have the responsibility to investigate any allegations, with a view to establishing the facts and to properly follow up on any wrongdoing”, the spokesman declared.
Faced with the latest allegations, Croatia’s Interior Minister, Davor Božinović, pledged that the police would conduct an investigation. He made a point of adding that Croatian border police act in line with the law and do not tolerate any abuse of authority.
In the past, the Croatian police claimed to have found no evidence of any illegal pushbacks when investigating hundreds of claims by migrants and human rights organisations, while at the same time denying to provide the files on police activities to the Croatian Ombudswoman.
The German-Croatian reporting team claims that the pushbacks are being conducted systematically, on the order of Croatia’s government, in what officials have dubbed “Operation Corridor”.
The reporters believe that the operation has been at least partially funded by EU cash, noting that Brussels has forwarded around 177 million euro to Croatia since 2014 for “migration management”. The Commission denies any knowledge of the operation, and warned that penalties could be imposed if it is established that EU-funded equipment was used to break the law.