AYS SPECIAL: When governments turn against volunteers - the case of AYS

During the 2018, we’ve witnessed unprecedented backlash against human rights defenders who’ve been advocating legal access to asylum system in the EU. Volunteers and NGOs have been threatened, attacked and legally persecuted for the crimes they didn’t commit. AYS is one of them. For the first time we’re publicly disclosing our own case to paint the full picture of the events on Europe’s largest terrestrial border.

Are You Syrious?
Dec 30, 2018 · 18 min read
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Volunteers removing anti-refugee graffiti from our building in Zagreb, Croatia. Photo: AYS
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Firefighters and volunteers walk free after two years of humiliating struggle. Photo: Proem Aid

How it started in Croatia: the case of little Madina

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A 6-year old girl who died minutes after the push-back from Croatia. Photo: family archive
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Representatives of CPS, AYS and their lawyer in front of the State’s Attorney Office of the Republic of Croatia after opening a criminal case for the manslaughter of little Madina. Photo: AYS archive

Volunteers portrayed as smugglers in the Parliament

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Minister of Interior accusing AYS of facilitating illegal border crossing in the Croatian Parliament became national news of the day, severely harming our reputation. Photo: screenshot

Ministry asks for the ban of AYS, prison for the volunteer who supported little Madina’s family

The penalty that was requested by the Ministry was threefold: maximum jail time and a fine amounting to 43.000 eur for the volunteer, and prohibition of conducting specific work or business to a legal entity. This last proposal was, presumably, intended to prohibit further work of AYS, but it was not taken into consideration by the court since it was legally misplaced being proposed in a proceeding against a natural person. Third country nationals that were mentioned in the charges were no other than the family of little Madina!

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Madina’s family mourning at her grave in Šid, Serbia. She was killed minutes after she was pushed back from Croatia together with her mother and five brothers and sisters. Photo: Lazara Marinković

Madina’s family was immediately put to detention and held there for without having access to legal assistance for months. According to their own statements, they were forced to sign documents they didn’t understand — one of them being incriminatory statement against AYS. European Court of Human Rights issued two interim measures, ordering Croatian state to release them from detention and to allow their elected lawyer to visit them. They never got the chance to be granted international protection in Croatia. In the end, they’ve absconded.

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Persecuted for the crime he didn’t commit: AYS volunteer Dragan Umičević. Photo: AYS archive

In the court it was undoubtedly proved that the family was already in Croatia when they’ve contacted us. The verdict also clearly states that Dragan had no direct contact with the family and no intention to facilitate illegal activity. However, in September the court found our volunteer guilty based on “unconscious negligence”, saying that he should have assumed that the family maybe wasn’t in Croatia. Despite the proven fact that they were on Croatian soil.

Defamation campaign triggers outbursts of violence against AYS

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Our property is usually targeted during the night and perpetrators are never seen or found, despite heavy police presence in front of our offices. Photo: AYS

We have also been threatened online by various individuals that quote misinformation published by the Ministry as the justification to attack us. Among others, we’ve reported a death threat sent to our NGO by a person who seems to be working for the Ministry, or at least this is stated on his public Facebook profile from which he sent the threats.

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AYS offices smashed with bricks — again, no perpetrators have been identified. Photo: AYS

Sometimes the police officers would be present in front of our offices the entire day, and sometimes at certain hours. Sometimes they would come in uniform / police cars and sometimes in civilian clothes / regular cars and stand very close to our office. At one occasion in October, one police officer entered our Integration center without explanation and without presenting himself and asked in a very rude way a refugee, who was our user, to say who he was. On other occasion, police officers entered our offices with no introduction whatsoever and asked for our ID’s, but refused to explain why they were there or if anyone did anything wrong.

AYS volunteers threatened in police stations

Volunteers detained for hours without explanation

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Minister of Interior in front of the police station where our volunteer has been held for 8 hours.

Attempt to stop the press conference by calling people in for questioning

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The press conference was held despite the very clear attempt to stop it by any cost. Photo: AYS archive

A volunteer with disabilities humiliated and yelled at for monitoring access to asylum system

Who is allowed to provide legal support?

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Volunteers providing legal support have been kicked out from the camp. Photo: CPS

When female volunteers turn to police for help, they end up being threatened with rape


Are You Syrious?

Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers…

By Are You Syrious?

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Are You Syrious?

Written by

Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.

Are You Syrious?

Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.

Are You Syrious?

Written by

Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.

Are You Syrious?

Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.

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