Minister of the Interior Davor Božinović said on Thursday that the police WhatsApp group, part of whose content was made public, was intended for operational communication in the fight against migrant smugglers, and all actions towards migrants were officially recorded.
Part of the content of the “OA Corridor II – Zapad” WhatsApp group was published on Thursday by Lighthouse Reports, and it shows the communication of police officers, from higher to lower ranks, about the groups of migrants they intercepted, the media reported.
There was no illegal deterrence of migrants
The conversations date from 2019 and 2020, among the posts you can see photos of groups of migrants, information about the location where they were caught, and in one of the messages a policeman asks for “five stamps for transportation and deterrence” from migrants caught near Velika Gorica.
Answering a journalist’s question whether such deterrence is against the law, Božinović said that he had not seen that message. “First you have to show me that message in order for me to respond,” he said.AD
When asked to clarify whether, since the beginning of the migrant crisis in Croatia, there had been deterrence of migrants contrary to the laws on international protection, he asserted that there had not been any.
It did not happen “that they were not offered asylum or international protection”, said Božinović.
All migrants who enter Croatia are registered, they are offered to submit an application for international protection, and if they refuse it, they are issued a decision that, in accordance with the law, they must leave the territory of the EU, i.e. Croatia.
The Korridor WhatsApp group, whose existence or the content of the published messages he did not deny, was founded as part of the police action Korridor for the operational communication of officials.
“Operation Corridor is not a secret operation, it has been carried out very intensively for the last five years. This is an action carried out by the Croatian police against migrant smugglers,” said Božinović and pointed out that the Croatian police are at the borders 24 hours a day and that the exchange of messages in WhatsApp groups is not prohibited. “People work day and night,” he said.
WhatsApp group shut down four years ago
He explained that the group was used for practical reasons, because groups of migrants mostly move at night, in order to exchange information faster.
“According to my knowledge, that group was shut down four years ago. I guess all of us here are in some kind of WhatsApp groups or were. So, people exchange information, and everything the police do is entered into the system,” he asserted.
He emphasized that these are closed groups between authorized persons.
“Police officers exchange information daily in all lines of police work. Why would you deprive yourself of something that can help you in encrypted, fast communication”, says Božinović.
If such groups did not exist, the police officers would have to wait for Monday and “go to work, sit down at the computer and then write official letters”.
Migrants in Croatia “exercise their rights” in accordance with the Law on International Protection, and in the process of entering Schengen, Croatia underwent the strictest evaluations by experts from member states and European institutions.AD
“When we talk about migration movements in 2015/2016, then it was only a transfer of people. “If we had continued on that path, Croatia would certainly not have positioned itself in Europe the way it did, Tourism Minister Nikolina Brnjac would not have optimistic forecasts for the tourist season, because we would not have entered Schengen,” Božinović pointed out.
Migrants are victims of people smugglers, we respect their rights
He asserted that the Croatian police are effective in the fight against migrant smugglers, ten of them were arrested in just 24 hours, and 250 this year. On the other hand, many thousands of requests for international protection were received.
This year, more than 8,500 migrants applied for international protection in Croatia, and once they submit the application, they have freedom of movement within the Schengen area.
Božinović claims that migrants mostly do this in order to “defy the rules” and go to countries where they want to stay or where they have a family member.
“I can understand them, but I will not and cannot escape the fact that laws are being broken in all of this, and that smugglers are involved,” says the minister.
The only solution is for the EU member states to agree precisely how to regulate this process.
“It is in Croatia’s best interest that this process be regulated, not for the purpose of border protection, but for the protection of these people. Anyone who helps migrants to illegally enter and pass through the territory of EU member states is doing so against the law, and by law all of these migrants are victims. They are the victims,” Božinović pointed out.