The Croatian asylum system is stretched to the limit of its capacity, according to a new report by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Europe, which raises concerns that with EU accession, the number of asylum seekers that the country receives is likely to continue to grow.
Already, from 2011 to 2012, there has been an increase of 50% in asylum applications filed in Croatia, and the asylum system currently relies on temporary measures, such as a converted old hotel serving as a reception centre, in order to accommodate this increase. Asylum seekers are often ill-informed about their rights, asylum procedures, and the progress of their claim, while recognition rates remain low – only 3% in 2011.
The report also examines the situation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), one of the key countries on the Balkan migration route into the EU. The report argues that abysmal standards for the reception of migrants and the processing of asylum claims in FYROM are pushing people to take risky and illegal journeys towards countries such as Croatia, in the hope of a real chance to access protection, endangering their lives, as well as increasing the pressures on the Croatian asylum system.
The report outlines the grave situation in Macedonian reception centres, which lack basic hygiene and safety provisions, and also notes that the international protection regime in the country is entirely dysfunctional, with recognition rates close to zero. The report urges the EU Commission to suspend the return of migrants from EU Member States to FYROM under the existing readmission agreement until conditions improve to an acceptable standard. It also recommends caution when implementing Dublin returns to Croatia once it has joined the EU, given the country’s currently stretched resources. Speaking at the launch of the report, however, Dora Schaffrin from the EU Commission Directorate General for Home Affairs defended the continued use of both these instruments, arguing that in neither country do the problems identified reach the required level of severity for transfers to be suspended; although she conceded that this standard is set very high.
The report calls on the EU to provide immediate assistance to Croatia through the European Asylum Support Office and the Asylum and Migration Fund, in order to ensure it complies in practice with EU asylum standards. Finally, it urges the EU to support civil society organisations in both countries, who are often the primary actors assisting asylum seekers and migrants.