Amnesty International has accused the European Union of being "complicit" in the “systematic, unlawful, and frequently violent pushbacks and collective expulsions” by Croatian police of thousands of asylum seekers to neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina, where they live in “squalid and unsafe” refugee camps.
In a report published on March 13, the London-based human rights watchdog said that by “prioritizing border control over compliance with international law, European governments are not just turning a blind eye to vicious assaults by the Croatian police, but also funding their activities.”
It warned of a “growing humanitarian crisis on the edge of the European Union.”
The route through Bosnia and Croatia has become increasingly popular among migrants and refugees from countries in Asia and the Middle East – including from Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan -- since Hungary erected fences along its borders.
WATCH: Migrants Accuse Croatian Police Of Brutality At Border (from November 2018)
While most managed to continue onward, around 5,500 women, men, and children are currently trapped in two Bosnian towns near the Croatian border -- Bihac and Velika Kladusa -- living in abandoned factories “without basic amenities,” Amnesty International said.
For the report -- titled Pushed To The Edge: Violence And Abuse Against Refugees And Migrants Along Balkan Route -- the group said it surveyed 94 migrants stranded in the temporary accommodation camps in Bihac and Velika Kladusa between June 2018 and January 2019.
Nearly all of them said that they were pushed back by Croatian police, and almost one-third of those interviewed described violence at the hands of police.
“Many described how they were beaten, had their documents destroyed and possessions stolen in what appears to be a systematic and deliberate policy by Croatian authorities designed to deter future attempts to enter the country,” the report said.
Reacting to the report, Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said that his country has to prevent illegal migration as it is at the outer border of the EU.
Bozinovic alleged in a statement that migrants often "falsely accuse" police officers of violence after they are prevented from entering Croatia.
The Croatian police respect the migrants' fundamental rights and dignity and allow them access to systems of international protection if required, he said.
Rights groups have in the past accused Croatian police of abusive tactics, with Zagreb denying the allegations.
In Bosnia, the authorities cannot offer them adequate protection or living conditions and the improvised camps are “unhygienic, lacking hot water, medical care, and sufficient food,” Amnesty International said.
The report said that potential asylum seekers are unlikely to get their asylum claims processed in Bosnia because of “bureaucratic obstacles, inadequate legal assistance, and limited administrative capacity.”
Amnesty International urged the EU to "decisively" call on Croatia to halt police violence at its borders and use "appropriate measures to ensure Croatia's full compliance with international and EU law."
The bloc also should provide additional assistance to Bosnia to improve the conditions for transiting and stranded people in the country.