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Croatia records sharp increase in number of illegal migrants

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Croatia has seen a sharp increase in the number of illegal migrants since joining Europe’s border-free Schengen area this year, police said on Thursday, while Slovenia has stepped up patrols near its shared border.

The Balkan country became part of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, the largest such zone in the world, on January 1. More than 400 million people have the right to move freely between its 27 member countries, most of which are also members of the European Union.

Croatia has the EU’s longest external land border, 1,350 kilometers (840 miles) in total, and applies strict controls on arrivals from its non-EU Balkan neighbors – Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia.

This year, more than 54,500 people have entered Croatia illegally, 140 percent more than the same period last year, according to Border Police Chief Zoran Niceno.

This shows that the number of undocumented people using the so-called Balkan route to reach the EU is increasing again, Niceno told national radio HR.

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Hundreds of thousands of people attempted to reach the bloc by land via the perilous Western Balkans route in 2015 and 2016, fleeing war and poverty in Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East.

The route was more or less closed in March 2016, but smaller numbers of would-be migrants continued to use it on their journey to Europe.

Croatia’s northern neighbor Slovenia, also a member of the EU and the Schengen zone, has meanwhile stepped up police checks along the “most critical parts of the border” with Croatia, it said on Wednesday the Minister of the Interior, Bostjan Poklukar.

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“It is not a question of internal (border) controls,” he stressed.

The number of migrants entering Slovenia almost tripled in the first eight months of the year compared to 2022, authorities said.

Human rights groups and media have repeatedly accused Croatian police of illegally forcing would-be migrants across the EU’s external borders, including into Bosnia, often resorting to violence.

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NGOs say children are among those forced across the border and Croatia is also failing to provide accommodation for asylum seekers in the country while their applications for refugee status are processed.

There have been more than 1,700 cases of illegal evictions this year, according to Croatian human rights group the Center for Peace Studies.

More than half of the migrants interviewed reported “physical violence, humiliation or theft” during their expulsion, the association told AFP.



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