'As a result of the strict policy, people die deep inside European territory’

Refugees who are forcibly moved across the border, hopeless stays in border detention centres: these are no exceptions in Croatia, but the common criminal consequences of an extremely tough European asylum system. The one source of support that refugees can count on is the tireless efforts of volunteers and human rights organisations like the Centre for Peace Studies Croatia. Volunteer coordinator Lucija Mulalić (29) explains:

Overwhelmed

'Croatia receives money from the European Union to guard its borders. "They fulfil that task very well", I recently heard German Chancellor Angela Merkel say on TV. At a moment like that, the astonishment overwhelms me. How can she say that? Doesn't she know what things are like here?'

Border detention

'Some of the refugees seeking asylum in Croatia are forcibly returned to Bosnia. Refugees who are not immediately deported face detention in border detention centres. In theory it is possible for asylum lawyers to visit the imprisoned refugees there, but in practice they  like the human rights organisations  have no access to the detention centres.'

Unspoken policy

'The tough approach is the result of the unspoken European policy to prevent refugees from applying for asylum here. This is also apparent from the European Migration Pact concluded last year. Humane solutions such as humanitarian visas, temporary work visas and relocation could all have been part of that pact, but they are not. The focus of the pact is solely on strengthening the impenetrable Fortress Europe, where there is no room for refugees.'

Impenetrable Fortress

'But people will always continue to flee, even if their journey is life-threatening. Some Europeans may think that border violence only occurs in border countries like Croatia and that refugees only die at sea, but that’s not the case. As a result of the strict policy, people die deep inside European territory. And the violent pushbacks sometimes start deep inside Europe. For example, we’ve seen refugees being pushed back by Austria into Slovenia, and by Slovenia to Croatia.'

Integration

'For refugees who do receive an asylum permit in Croatia, the hardship is not over yet. Croatia often claims to be a transition country. "Refugees don't want to stay here", the government claims. In practice, it’s more unruly: the small numbers of refugees who receive asylum here have very few opportunities to integrate. Poor access to language lessons, to healthcare and to the labour market forces people to travel further.'

Interests served

'At the Centre for Peace Studies, we defend the interests of refugees in border detention centres and for the right to request asylum. We also support refugees during their civic integration and we work to increase public support for refugees, for example through education.'

Small wins

'Sometimes it feels like fighting a losing battle. We find strength to carry on in celebrating our small victories. For example, we managed to ensure that European funds used for border control must now be monitored by an independent agency. Of course we’ll continue to monitor whether that monitoring is truly independent.'

The difference

'We also find support in our interactions with other non-profit organisations. Sometimes we organise days where we all come together: integration experts, asylum lawyers, non-profit organisations, volunteers and experience experts, such as refugees who have built their lives here. Seeing them all together, learning from each other, and seeing beautiful encounters: that gives hope. Together we can make a difference.'

  • The Center for Peace Studies is an NGO that has focused on asylum and integration of refugees and asylum seekers since 1996. In recent years, the Council for Refugees has worked together with CPS on aspects such as integration, advocacy, and strategic litigation against push-backs.

 

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