ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) — Croatia has detained two police officers suspected of hurting a migrant as the European Union country faces renewed reports of violence and pushbacks against people crossing from Bosnia or Serbia while trying to reach Western Europe.
Croatian police in the past have repeatedly denied allegations leveled by migrants and human rights organizations. Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic on Friday insisted police respond to any such cases.
“I am not happy something like this happened ... they in a way tainted the honorable police job," Bozinovic said.
The arrests in Croatia came as two independent experts working for the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council on Friday urged Croatia to immediately investigate reports of excessive use of force, “including acts amounting to torture and ill-treatment."
Felipe González Morales, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, and Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said in a joint statement they are “deeply concerned about the repeated and ongoing disproportionate use of force by Croatian police against migrants in pushback operations."
“Victims, including children, suffered physical abuse and humiliation simply because of their migration status,” they said.
Physical violence and degrading treatment against migrants have been reported in more than 60% of all recorded pushback cases from Croatia between January and May 2020, and recent reports indicate the number of forced returns is rising, the statement said.
Abusive treatment of migrants has included physical beatings, the use of electric shocks, forced river crossings and stripping of clothes despite adverse weather conditions, forced stress positions, gender insensitive body searches and spray-painting the heads of migrants with crosses, it added.
Earlier this month, Amnesty International rights group also blasted Croatian police violence against migrants, and criticized the EU for not responding. The group on Friday hailed the detention of the two police officers as a “significant step forward."
“We hope that this is a sign that the Croatian government is finally taking urgent steps to stop the rampant police abuse at its borders, openly condemn violence and hold perpetrators to account," said Jelena Sesar, an Amnesty International researcher in the Balkans,
Thousands of migrants have been stuck in the Balkans while trying to reach wealthy European nations. With the easing of lockdown rules against the new coronavirus, Balkan countries have reported a surge in migration in the region.