Migrants making their way into Croatia from Bosnia are now greeted with a hard-hitting advertising campaign stating: ''Welcome to Croatia - Country of torture.''
A local NGO, ‘Inicijativa Dobrodošli’, or Welcome Initiative, is behind the campaign which aims to support refugees and protest against restrictive and abusive migrant policies.
With winter approaching, thousands of migrants, many from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa are stuck in makeshift camps in Bosnia. With Croatia and Slovenia tightening their border crossings with Bosnia, thousands of migrants will have to endure below zero temperatures.
“Croatia has normalised and institutionalised violence, which remains unacceptable,” group members from the Welcome Initiative told TRT World with regard to migrant policies enacted by the European Union (EU) country.
Earlier this year the Croatian government faced allegations of torture against migrants attempting to enter the country.
A few days before the billboards went up, the European Commission announced that Croatia had fulfilled the conditions to join the Schengen area, a free-travel zone, which means citizens of member states can move without any border controls.
“Our government is blindly following the EU policy which results in Croatia being ‘the guardian’ of the EU borders and carrying out illegal and inhuman pushbacks of migrants on a daily basis,” the Welcome Initiative told TRT World in a written statement.
Human rights groups criticised the announcement for rewarding harsh tactics as a means of suppressing migration flows in what some critics have called the creation of Fortress Europe.
“Illegal pushbacks and incarceration of refugees and migrants, and police violence, abuse and torture of individuals and groups, men and women, adults and children have been reported for years,” said the Welcome Initiative over email. “With this action, activists declared that they will never accept this as a reality.”
Over the past year, the border between Croatia and Bosnia has been home to violent scenes with refugees attempting to make the crossing into Croatia, resulting in police officers pushing refugees back into Bosnian territory by almost any means necessary.
“Migrants are treated poorly in Croatia, first they are being abused by the border police, and if they manage to come and stay in Croatia, the support system and integration process are deeply flawed and inadequate, offering no real chance for a decent life.”