STA, 17 May 2019 - Slovenian police officers are systemically denying migrants the right to asylum and are illegally returning them to Croatia, according to a report by Info Kolpa, a civil initiative launched about a year ago in response to growing allegations by migrants that Slovenia was denying them the right to asylum. Police deny the accusations.
The initiative wanted to determine whether migrants who requested asylum in Slovenia were refouled to Croatia, where they were subjected to systemic physical and psychological abuse by the police.
To determine what was happening along the Schengen border, the initiative set up an SOS number to which migrants are able to report their names along with their intent to request asylum and their locations upon entering the country. The initiative then forwards the data to the police, the human rights ombudsman and Amnesty International.
The report also notes that there was a rapid drop in the number of asylum seekers in the span of a single month. In May 2018, the Črnomelj police station apprehended 379 migrants of whom 371 (98%) requested asylum. "In June, there was a drastic change in how procedures were conducted at the Črnomelj police station: out of 412 persons processed, only 13 requested asylum."
The report, compiled in cooperation with the Border Violence Monitoring NGO, says that this was proof that the police were covering up what was going on at police stations along the border, and "mass malversation in how asylum procedures are conducted by the Slovenian police".
"This radical change is in correlation with contentious instructions by Police Commissioner Simon Velički about returning migrants to the Croatian police ... dated to 25 May 2018."
The report lists several cases of migrants who sent their names and locations to Kolpa Info. It is not known what happened to many of them after their information was forwarded to the police.
Moreover, in many cases people were refouled back to Croatia and further south to Bosnia-Herzegovina, often being beaten by the Croatian police. Many report of having their money taken by the Croatian police, as well as cellphones and other possessions.
The report includes the story of a man whose shoes were taken away by the Croatian police in February and had to have his toes amputated as a result.
The initiative says that the stories of migrants paint a grave picture about the way Slovenian police operate when it comes to the treatment of migrants.
"The violations are not sporadic and they do not depend on individual police officers, they amount to systemic denial of the right to international protection, an order coming from the top of the police force, and with the knowledge of the top officials of the Interior Ministry."
The head of the border police, Peter Skerbiš, rejected the accusations saying the actions of the Slovenian police were professional and in line with the law. He said police did not deny anyone the right to international protection.
Skerbiš told the press today that these claims had been checked several times in the past by NGOs, the Human Rights Ombudsman and the UNHCR. No irregularities had been found, he said.
Police officers have received no instruction to push people back and the foreigners who express the intention to request asylum are transported to the asylum centre.
Only those who do not want to request for asylum are returned to Croatia after evidence is gathered that they entered Slovenia from there.
Regarding claims about Croatian police violence, Skerbiš said that Croatia is an EU member state and considered a safe country. "We have so far received no information or instruction from EU institutions that foreigners must not be sent to Croatia."
The initiative demands an immediate stop of what they say is collective refoulement of migrants on the basis of a bilateral border control agreement, immediate annulment of this agreement and the upholding of the right of international protection.
The initiative also demands civil oversight over police work when it comes to migrants. Moreover, it says the police must disclose contentious internal communication, while investigations must be launched against former commissioner Simon Velički, his successor Tatjana Bobnar, as well as former interior minister Vesna Györkös Žnidar and former state secretary Boštjan Šefic.