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The Council of Europe's concerns were outlined in a letter that was signed by the human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic. (file photo)

The Council of Europe is urging Croatia to investigate allegations against police of the "ill treatment" of migrants trying to cross through the western Balkan nation's borders.

In a letter sent in September and made public on October 5, the council said Croatian authorities should probe "all recorded cases of collective expulsions and of allegations of violence against migrants."

The letter was signed by the human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, and addressed to Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

"I am worried by reports that I have received from expert refugee and migrant organizations that provide consistent and substantiated information about a large number of collective expulsions from Croatia to Serbia and to Bosnia-Herzegovina," Mijatovic’s letter said, citing moves against "irregular migrants," including potential asylum-seekers.

Mijatovic added that "particularly worrisome" were allegations of "systematic violence" used by Croatian law enforcement against migrants, including children and pregnant women.

The incidents were detailed in an 87-page report published on October 2 by the council.

Many migrants attempt to cross into Croatia, a member of the European Union, through Bosnia.

Activist groups have said many migrants slip through but that others are violently forced back outside Croatia’s borders.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has cited reports by migrants of police abuse and thefts of phones and money by Croatian law enforcement.

The Croatian government has denied incidents of police abuse, claiming that most migrants had left voluntarily.

Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said in a response council's letter that "no cases of police coercion towards migrants...nor thefts were established."

He added that Croatia, which is seeking to join the visa-free Schengen zone, has an "obligation to protect the state border from illegal crossings."

Croatia was previously part of the so-called Balkans route used by migrants who arrived in Europe in 2015 and 2016 after fleeing regions in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

The route was mainly shut down in 2016.

With reporting by AFP and Total Croatia
Gunfire And Protests After Chechnya-Ingushetia Deal
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Amnesty International says it feared a possible police crackdown as thousands of people continued to demonstrate in Russia's North Caucasus region of Ingushetia to protest a controversial border deal with neighboring Chechnya.

Several thousand demonstrators rallied on October 5 for a second day in a square in the regional capital, Magas.

It came a day after demonstrators rallied in front of the parliament building in the regional capital, Magas, where lawmakers had gathered to vote on the border delimitation deal reached by the Ingush and Chechen leaders last week.

Local media reports said thousands of protesters remained in the square overnight.

Hundreds of police and security forces have been present but have not intervened against the demonstrators.

Thousands Protest Ingushetia-Chechnya Deal
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In a statement on October 5, the London-based human rights watchdog said it had observed ongoing protests in Magas and called on authorities to uphold the right to peaceful assembly and refrain from excessive force in Ingushetia.

"So far protests have been peaceful and law enforcement have conducted themselves professionally," said Amnesty International’s Russian Researcher Oleg Kozlovsky, though he added that the "situation is delicately balanced."

"If some protesters use violence, they must respond in a proportionate manner," Kozlovsky added. "The reckless rhetoric by some leaders in the lead-up to the border deal, and the total lack of transparency around the agreement, have raised tension and made the possibility of violence more likely."

The Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov recently threatened the protesters in Ingushetia by saying that the demonstrators "will be held accountable."

On September 26, police detained several protesters during a similar rally on the outskirts of Magas against what critics say is the unfair handover of parts of Ingushetia to neighboring Chechnya.

The two regions used to be parts of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. They split in 1992, following the Soviet Union's collapse the previous year.

Chechnya is the site of two devastating post-Soviet separatist wars from 1994 to 2001 and the epicenter of an Islamist insurgency that spread across much of the North Caucasus, igniting violence in Ingushetia and other mostly Muslim republics in the region.

With reporting by Caucasus Knot and Kommersant

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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