On Thursday, November 18, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) slammed the Croatian authorities for actions that led to the death of a six-year-old Afghan child, Madina Hosseini, after her family was pushed back from the country’s border on November 21, 2017. After four years of a legal battle between the Croatian authorities and the family backed by rights groups, the ECHR stated that “Croatia violated a number of provisions of the International Convention on Human Rights, including on the right to life and the prohibition of unsuspecting and degrading treatment.” Rights groups such as Are You Syrious?, Centre for Peace Studies, and other progressive sections including the Workers Front and Mozemo (We Can) welcomed the verdict of the EHRC.
According to reports, the Croatian authorities had detained Madina Hosseini’s family at the Croatian border in 2017 and denied them the rightful opportunity to seek asylum. They were forced to return to Serbia on foot by following the railway track. Six-year-old Madina was hit by a passing train close to the Serbian border. The ECHR also found that the Croatian authorities failed to conduct an effective investigation into the case and slapped them with a penalty of 40,000 euros (USD 45,152) in damages to the family, as well as trial costs of 16,700 euros (USD 18,850.96).
Following the verdict on Thursday, human rights group Are You Syrious? called a press conference and alleged that “the fate of Madina’s family has been shared by tens of thousands of people over the last few years. According to available data, about 25,000 refugees are illegally expelled from Croatia annually, including more than a third who are children. While the State Attorney’s Office rejects our reports as baseless, illegal expulsion and torture at Croatian borders were recognized by courts in Slovenia, Austria and Italy, and now the European Court of Human Rights. In addition, our organizations have so far counted 200 refugees deaths on Croatian borders. Do we have to wait for someone to die again to change something?”
The ECHR ruling comes a month after an investigation led by Lighthouse Reports and a group of European media houses into violent push back practices used against migrants in the Balkans and Aegean countries. According to their findings, in the months while the investigation was underway, 14 push backs were reported from the borders of Romania, Greece, and Croatia. These involved 189 migrants, 148 of whom were expelled from Croatia, according to Novosti. Many of the recorded push backs included the use of physical violence against both children and adults by security personnel equipped with gear akin to what is used by the Croatian police’s riot control branch, as per the Lighthouse Reports.
Christopher Stokic, president of the Socialist Workers Party of Croatia (SRPH), told Peoples Dispatch that the humanitarian crisis marked by the deteriorating conditions of refugees at the European borders is an outcome of the criminal policy of NATO and the European Union (EU), which destabilized many nations in West Asia and North Africa through imperialist wars.
“The EU leadership has been showing duplicity in its policy towards the refugees as on the one hand, they try to push back the desperate refugee families from its borders as we see in Croatia, Poland etc. On other hand, the European capitalists continue to exploit those refugees who manage to reach Europe – surviving all the hurdles and hardships – as cheap labor,” he added.
The Mozemo political platform in Croatia stated that the ECHR verdict proves that the current government’s policy of “management of migration” is flawed. “We believe that the persons responsible for this decision must be held accountable and we expect the Government of the Republic of Croatia to introduce a new migration management policy as soon as possible that will have effective elements of respecting the rule of rights and protection of human rights,” said Mozemo.
MP Katarina Peovic from the Workers Front (RF) tweeted that “the fact that Croatia is responsible for the death of a 6-year-old Afghan girl, Madina Hussini, should touch anyone who has even a little humanity.”
The Balkan Migration Route is a notorious route which runs through North Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Slovenia and Croatia, used by migrants mainly from war-torn West Asia to reach Europe. Due to tight border regulations and harsh policies on migration instituted by the countries in this Balkan route, thousands of refugees still remain stranded and suffer in border towns en route to Europe.