During the year many countries in the EU and Southeast Europe experienced an unprecedented wave of migration from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, consisting of a mix of asylum seekers, potential refugees, economic migrants, and trafficking victims, and others. For simplicity this report refers to these populations as “migrants and asylum seekers” if more specific information is not available.
Starting in September, an estimated 555,000 migrants and asylum seekers arrived in the country, with almost all expressing their intent to transit the country to other EU countries. UNHCR reported that only 10 of these individuals sought asylum in the country. Representatives from the International Red Cross and UNHCR assessed that the transit centers in Opatovac and Slavonski Brod for migrants and asylum seekers offered appropriate care and assistance and generally met international humanitarian standards. The Ministry of Interior reported that a majority of migrants and asylum seekers were able to depart the country less than 48 hours after arrival, often transiting and departing the same day they arrived.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. On July 2, the International and Temporary Protection Act became law and harmonized the national asylum legislation with the provisions of the EU regulations.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: On November 19, Minister of Interior Ranko Ostojic announced that the country would restrict the entry of certain nationalities traveling as part of the irregular mixed migration flow, stating “some people do not receive international protection…these are primarily citizens of Morocco, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Algeria, Liberia, Congo, Sudan, and Pakistan, “ and that Croatia had notified Macedonia and Serbia that citizens of these countries will no longer be allowed to pass through the country because they were economic migrants, not asylum seekers. Prior to November 19, migrants and asylum seekers were permitted to transit the country regardless of citizenship. Separate border restrictions in Macedonia and Serbia instituted on November 18 effectively restricted migrants and asylum seekers entering the country to citizens of Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
Access to Basic Services: Authorities generally treated migrants and asylum seekers in a humane manner. According to an Amnesty International report released on October 19, an estimated 1,800 migrants and refugees were temporarily stranded at the Croatia-Slovenia border overnight without shelter when Croatian police escorted them to the border crossing at Turnover and they were initially refused entry to Slovenia. The migrants and asylum seekers were subsequently allowed to pass slowly through the border, with priority given to families traveling with children.
The Ministry of Interior operated two transit centers to register and assist migrants and asylum seekers in the town of Opatovac and the city of Slavonski Brod. Representatives from UNHCR and the Croatian Red Cross reported that facilities were appropriate and that assistance was focused on meeting the humanitarian needs of travelers. Migrants and asylum seekers were offered food, medical care, shelter, and clothing, as well as transportation assistance. All of these services were available at no cost.
Durable Solutions: The government participated in a five-year joint regional housing program with the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia to help provide durable integration or return housing solutions (local integration or voluntary return) for 73,592 refugees and internally displaced persons in the region from the 1990s conflicts associated with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. Most of these potential returnees were particularly vulnerable (often elderly or unemployed) while awaiting durable housing solutions. Croatian government policies associated with returnees do not discriminate against vulnerable groups, including women, LGBTI, or persons with disabilities.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately 10 persons during the year.