Croatia began an inquiry on Thursday into fresh accusations that its police force engages in systematic violent detentions of migrants and asylum seekers trying to enter the country illegally from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The decision came a day after video footage showed uniformed personnel in balaclavas assaulting groups of migrants at a porous section of the European Union member country's 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) border with Bosnia and Herzegovina was released.
The video was shot during an eight-month investigation led by the non-profit organization Lighthouse Reports and including journalists from several European news organizations. Journalists from the German ARD public broadcaster and Der Spiegel news website, the French Liberation newspaper, and the Swiss SRF broadcaster were in attendance.
The organization also claimed that Romanian police and Greek coast guard troops had pushed back towards the border. Greece's migration minister rejected the accusations. Romanian officials did not respond right away.
Lighthouse Reports' Klaas Van Dijken told the Associated Press in a phone interview on Thursday that reporters filmed 11 alleged pushbacks in Croatia between February and September this year, including drone footage of a police officer covering his face with a balaclava before forcing at least 15 people over the border to Bosnia.
Croatian whistleblowers informed the media that these activities were part of a national operation codenamed Corridor, according to Van Dijken. The guys in balaclavas videotaped slapping refugees carried normal Croatian police batons but no nametags or badges on their clothes.
"The guys had equipment and clothes compatible with a section of the Croatian police called Intervention Police," Van Dijken said.
After one instance in which Croatian intervention police forcefully ejected a group of migrants attempting to exercise their right to seek asylum, the journalists were allowed to talk with them in the forest.
They saw drenched Pakistanis and Afghans, some of whom were barefoot or just wore socks. Long purple welts covered their backs, coupled with bruises and oozing gashes on their upper arms and elbows, and they displayed their injuries.
Human rights groups have accused Croatian police of violence and unlawful deportations of migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina for years, which Croatia has repeatedly denied.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, still recovering from the terrible 1992-95 conflict, became a bottleneck for thousands of migrants heading to Europe from the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa a few years ago when other countries closed their borders to prevent migratory routes via the Balkans.
Most migrants enter Bosnia and Herzegovina and trek northwest to Croatia's border, one of the final entry points into central and northern Europe.
On Thursday, Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said that a "special investigation team" had been formed to look into the most recent accusations and video evidence.
"The team is already on the ground and has a mission to figure out what occurred, where it happened, and who was involved," Bozinovic said, adding that "there are a lot of questions to be addressed."
Croatian authorities have launched similar investigations in the past, but they have found no evidence of systematic police misconduct.
Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson, the EU's top migration official, said Thursday that some of the allegations of alleged police brutality against migrants in Croatia were "shocking," and she was "very worried."
"This has to be looked further," Johansson added, "but they appear to suggest some sort of orchestration of violence at our exterior borders."
Dunja Mijatovi, the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, described the conclusions of the Lighthouse Report as "terrible."
On Thursday, Mijatovi tweeted that it was "high time" for CoE members to "examine properly, take action, hold each other accountable, and stop such severe" human rights abuses.
Written By: Olivium's Editor