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Croatia denies refusing entry to Chechens hoping to apply for asylum

Ukrainian Refugees gather at the main train station in Przemysl, Poland. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Croatian Interior Ministry has denied that Zagreb refused entry to a group of Chechens who were waiting at a border town in Bosnia-Herzegovina hoping to gain entry and request asylum in the European Union country.

The ministry said on December 27 that it has allowed a number of Chechens to enter Croatia but did not say how many. Some of the Chechens waiting at the border say they fled Russia to avoid being sent to fight in Ukraine.

The Chechens told RFE/RL on December 27 that they arrived in Bosnia by plane from Istanbul. Most of them are families with children.

A man who identified himself only as Ilyas told RFE/RL that he had “received an invitation to the war in Ukraine” and left to avoid being sent to fight. He said he fled with his family and that the goal is to enter Croatia.

There are 100 Chechens in total in Velika Kladusa, a city in Bosnia, and they are being housed in a hotel, but only about 30 of them were waiting to enter Croatia on December 27. Some of them previously entered Croatia, but it was unclear how many.

Bosnia’s Minister of Security Selmo Cikotic told RFE/RL that they want political asylum in Croatia but that Croatia does not currently accept that.

“There are some ‘disagreements’ between our border police and the Croatian border police,” Cikotic told RFE/RL.

The Croatian Interior Ministry said that throughout 2022 it has recorded an increased number of Russian citizens who have submitted requests for international protection.

The ministry said it has not denied entry to anyone who has requested international protection and rejected insinuations that access to its asylum system is only possible for a certain category of Russian citizens and people who belong to certain religions.

The ministry said the country’s asylum system “is under the exclusive national jurisdiction of the Croatian police and the Ministry of the Interior,” and that, therefore, it cannot be the subject of cooperation or “disagreements” between the Croatian and Bosnia-Herzegovina police.

In a written response to RFE/RL, the ministry pointed to the arrival of the Russian citizens legally through airports in Sarajevo and Tuzla.

“Therefore, we note that all third countries that have candidate status for the EU…have the obligation to harmonize their visa regime with the EU visa regime,” the ministry said.

Bosnia became an EU candidate country on December 15.

The statement also noted that Croatia does not accept people with travel documents issued by Russia, Ukraine, or Georgia under a decision of the European Parliament and European Council issued on December 14.

Cikotic said there is always a possibility that the visa-free travel regime between Bosnia and Russia could be canceled if it is determined that there has been a violation of the agreement.

“For now, it is a controlled number, and we do not have an estimate that it could go in that direction,” Cikotic told RFE/RL, referring to the possibility that it could be canceled.