Croatia’s prime minister has championed his country’s refusal to erect barbed wired barriers to block migrants from Bosnia and Herzegovina and pledged to investigate “problematic” allegations in response to claims of brutality by Croatian border police.
Andrej Plenković, whose country is taking over the six-month presidency of the European council, said any claims against his security forces would be investigated but he suggested that his government deserved praise for its approach.
In a criticism of the approach of Viktor Orbán’s far-right government in Hungary, which has set up barbed wire fences on its southern border, Plenković said his administration instead wanted to maintain good relations with its neighbours.
Plenković said that claims about the behaviour of officers manning the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina had not been proven and that two reported gunfire incidents had been found to be accidental.
In 2018, the Guardian released footage of asylum seekers from Algeria, Syria and Pakistan, being captured and seemingly beaten by the Croatian police as they attempted to cross the Bosnia-Croatia border into the EU.
In November last year, an 18-year-old Afghan man was left with life-threatening injuries to his chest and abdomen after an officer opened fire, apparently unintentionally.
Plenković told reporters in Zagreb that claims against officers were allegations and not facts.
He said: “Croatia unlike some other countries did not opt for the erection of barriers nor install barbed wires with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Why? Because Bosnia and Herzegovina is a neighbouring country, a friendly country.
“We shall not do that. What we shall do in preventing illegal migration is to respect our laws, international standards and conventions and all humanitarian aspects. If there are any allegations which might be problematic, everything we have heard is verified, checked and investigated. This is what we shall continue doing.”
Plenković, taking part in a joint press conference with the European council president, Charles Michel, said there was an urgent need to reinforce the EU’s “most external borders … between Turkey and Greece and between Turkey and Bulgaria”.
Croatia hopes to join the border control-free Schengen Area of the EU by the end of 2020. The youngest EU member state is one of only six countries in the bloc that is not part of Schengen.