Croatia cracks down on migrants as Europe beefs up border checks
BREGANA, Croatia — It took Croatia years to finally enter into Europe's passport-free travel zone that promised to ease access for other European nationals travelling to the country and boost its tourism-driven economy.
But less than a year since its border crossings with European Union peers were dismantled, temporary checks have been reintroduced amid a surge in illegal migration across the region.
Neighbouring Slovenia re-introduced checks along its borders last month, following similar moves by Italy and other EU countries.
"People ask themselves what kind of fence could stop these people who passed so many frontiers and countries," said Perica Matijevic, the head of the Krnjak municipality near Croatia's border with Bosnia that has been a hot-spot for crossings.
Matijevic, who referred to a registration camp for incoming migrants that is being prepared in the area, is not alone in his weariness.
Locals in the scarcely populated area complain that groups of migrants -- almost all of whom are young men -- moving through the area have only increased anxieties.
"One should feel safe in his own house but migrants pass through our yards ... there were thefts, it's not pleasant," said economics student Sara Matijevic from the village of Dugi Dol, close to where the camp will open.
Croatia, which guards one of EU's longest external land borders, has long been a magnet for illegal migrants hoping to enter the bloc.
Over the years, the country gained an infamous reputation for fiercely patrolling its borders, leading to accusations that its authorities used violence to push back EU-bound refugees.
In 2021, Zagreb was forced to admit as much following the publication of an investigation by major European media outlets that uncovered alleged systematic targeting of refugees by special units in Croatia, Greece and Romania.
Migrants said little has changed.
Atefa, a 29-year-old Afghan refugee who did not provide her surname for security reasons, said Croatian police treated her and eight fellow migrants "like animals".
Along with forcing them to collect garbage and pouring water in their shoes, officers groped women and made obscene noises, she told AFP.