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Flight and Asylum

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Flight and Asylum

Pascal Goeke

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In Croatia, refuge and asylum are matters that are strongly influenced by the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s and increasingly more considerably by the closer partnership with the EU in the 21st century. Accordingly, the after effects of the Yugoslav Wars on the one hand and the current immigration of refugees and the asylum policies directed at it on the other hand should be differentiated between. The long-term effects of the war alone are presently numerically meaningful. In January, 2012, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) counted 24,301 people in Croatia and 85,402 people from Croatia as people to whom it felt itself obliged ('Population of Concern'). Only with a few of these people is the status legally clear (partly due to e.g. the status 'returned refugee' being connected with high restrictions). More frequent are the cases in which people e.g. are threatened by statelessness or are waiting for the possibility to return and are exactly because of this observed by the UNHCR. Table 6 gives information about the internal breakdown of these overall numbers.

Table 6: Snapshot of the refugee situation in January 2012

Refugees and displaced persons in CroatiaRefugees and displaced persons from Croatia
Refugees 82462,649
Asylum seekers 235739
Returned refugees (in 2011) 439439
Internal refugees 00
Returned internal refugees (in 2011)6767
Stateless persons 1,720-
Miscellaneous 21,01621,508
Total24,301 85,402

Right of Asylum

The first right to asylum in Croatia was enacted in 2004. This establishment of the right to asylum, as well as its configuration, was clearly influenced by the conditions of the targeted EU-membership. With regard to chapter 24 of the Acquis Communitaire (justice, freedom and security), Croatia was obliged to adopt European Community law, or rather to harmonize their own legislation with European law, the demands of the Geneva Convention, as well as with the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. Two years after the enactment of the law, in 2006, the right to asylum was granted for the first time. The right to asylum provides different protection statuses and integration measures. It regulates questions of stay, housing, work, health care and education, grants religious freedom, the right of family reunification, the right to access a legal system as well as social support and integration help. In practice, different ministries and other institutions like the Red Cross ensure that these rights are granted and implemented.

The Number of Asylum Applicants

The number of asylum seekers has thus far been low, even though it has risen most recently. According to Šabić et al., by 6 October 2011, 1,539 people had applied for asylum (the numbers vary slightly from source to source). In the same time frame 22 people were granted the right to asylum and another 22 people received subsidary protection. These figures do not show the difference between those asylum procedures that were rejected and those that were called off because the applicants cancelled the proceedings and migrated to another country (preferably and probably an EU member state). According to data from the UNHCR Croatia, the latter has been the case, nevertheless, in 80% of all applications.

Table 7: Number of asylum applications in Croatia

Asylum applications200160150290810

Source: UNHCR (2012), p. 20

In comparison with 44 other European and non-European industrial nations, Croatia held 27th place in 2011 if the number of asylum applicants is correlated with the total population, and 28th place if the gross domestic product per capita is used comparatively. Corresponding to these low numbers, the topic of asylum is discussed neither by the political parties nor by a wider public. The small number of cases may also be responsible for the largely smooth processing of asylum applications so far. Whether the communication and coordination channels currently set up are also appropriate for larger numbers of cases and how the Croatian population will react to a probable rise in cases can currently not be answered seriously. The attraction of EU-member states all in all, the geographic position of Croatia, its future position on the EU external border as well as the EU regulations on asylum procedures (Dublin II Regulation) will, however, probably cause a rise in the number of asylum application with the accession of Croatia into the EU



  1. Cf. also the discussion on the validity of data: UNHCR (2011).

  2. Cf. Šabić et al. (2011), p. 3.

  3. Šabić et al. (2011).

  4. UNHCR (2012), p. 20.

  5. Cf. Šabić et al. (2011), p. 2.


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Dr. Pascal Goeke is research assistant at the Department of Geography of the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Email: E-Mail Link: