CROATIA AND EU ASYLUM SEEKERS
VIEWPOINT FROM LONDON
The Croatian Herald, Australia No. 972 - 27 June 2003
It appears that - despite denials - some form of
asylum seekers camp has been seriously considered to
be set up in Croatia to handle asylum seekers who wish
to enter the UK or European Union. In this column of
30 May it was predicted that such camps would produce
tremendous bad publicity for Croatia. Sadly, this has
proved to be correct. At the same time, the whole
concept has run into political trouble.
On Sunday 15 June Britain's top selling newspaper 'The
Observer', ran a front-page story entitled "Secret
Balkan camp for UK asylum seekers". The sub-headline
ran as "Britain to ship refugees to Croatian army base
for offshore processing". The story was highly
critical of the entire idea of such camps. It was
pointed out that these camps could present human
rights concerns; i.e. is Croatia up to providing such
standards? Furthermore, Croatia was firmly identified
as a "Balkan" state. The article pointed out that this
camp is the vanguard of a network of camps to be set
up in "conflict regions".
This was a public relations disaster for Croatia. The
Observer is a top selling newspaper in Britain, and
this story glared out of every newsagent in the land.
Other UK and international media picked up the story.
Croatia to many people must have come across as a
'conflict region' which cannot be trusted on human
rights. Not a good advert for tourism. Or anything
else. This proposed network is designed to be
constructed outside of the EU - clearly Croatia is not
joining the EU anytime soon.
The whole PR disaster could have been avoided; Croatia
should not have got involved, regardless of any
pressure. The bad publicity outweighs any possible
Many, not just in this column, pointed out the
negative effects for Croatia hosting such a camp. The
respected Hilda Foley of the Croatian American Society
- and who is also media director of the National
Federation of Croatian Americans - wrote in March and
May to the Croatian president and government on the
matter. She received no reply. Zagreb cannot say it
was not warned. It seems the Croatian government went
into this without any concern over the negative
publicity for Croatia this would create - publicity
that could harm Croatia's tourist trade.
However, the entire project has run into political
problems. The Financial Times has stated that Tony
Blair had to backtrack on these plans. Countries such
as Germany and Sweden are none too keen on them. The
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has also
criticized the plans. The UNHCR believes the EU should
process its asylum seekers within the EU.
As for the camp in Croatia at Trstenik, it's now being
claimed it's for asylum seekers to Croatia; but why is
the EU involved in its construction? The EU
involvement allows the UK to deny everything. It also
allows for the camp's purpose to be conveniently
changed at some point in the future to accommodate
asylum seekers to the EU. They would claim it's a
natural development, given the EU's role in its
The UNHCR is right; the EU's asylum seekers should be
dealt with in the EU. They should not be transferred
to other countries. Croatia needs to develop an image
of a peaceful, stable country - not one involved in
negative controversies such as this. Croatia should
ensure that it stays out of these UK/EU asylum plans.
Otherwise it can look forward to more bad headlines in
the European press.
© Brian Gallagher
My 'Viewpoint from London' column appears fortnightly
in the Australian 'Croatian Herald' and thereafter at www.croatiafocus.com