Italian politicians claim armed police formed a “ human barrier ” in an attempt to deny access to an area on the border with Bosnia.
Four Italian politicians accused Croatian police of trying to prevent them from gaining access to an area on the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina over the weekend, amid concerns over the treatment of refugees in the region.
The lawmakers, all members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from the Italian Democratic Party (PD), intended to visit the area between Croatia, an EU member state, and Bosnia, to investigate the conditions faced by asylum seekers.
Piero Bartolo, Brando Benifei, Pierfrancesco Majorino and Alessandra Moretti say they were denied access to the border post on Saturday.
According to reports quoting Benifei, MEPs were prevented from reaching the border after “dozens” of Croatian police officers erected a “human barrier” on the road leading to the checkpoint.
“The Croatian police were waiting for us and put up a barrier,” Benifei said in a video recorded at the scene, published online by the Italian newspaper Avvenire.
“We decided to go through but dozens of threatening armed police formed a human barrier preventing us from passing.
The MEPs then entered Bosnia and Herzegovina and traveled to Bihac, a town on the country’s border with Croatia.
They visited the former Lipa refugee camp site, which was devastated by fire last month, leaving hundreds homeless in freezing winter conditions.
There are growing fears of a refugee crisis in Bosnia, with many reporting respiratory problems as they lack adequate shelter and access to sanitation and basic health care.
Meanwhile, refugees and aid agencies have repeatedly accused Croatian police of using violence to push people back across the border in non-EU Bosnia.
Croatian police routinely deny these accusations.
Several prominent politicians have condemned the alleged refusal of the Croatian authorities to allow Benifei and his colleagues to access the border.
The President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, said he was “surprised” by the treatment reserved for MEPs.
“We always hope for friendly cooperation. We call for their demands to be met, ”he tweeted.
Nicola Zingaretti, the secretary of the PD, called the incident “very serious”, calling on the EU to act.
However, Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic has dismissed MEPs’ actions as a provocation against the Croatian police, the pan-European media network EURACTIV reported.
Bozinovic told reporters at a press conference that no one was allowed to cross Croatia and Bosnia at any location other than official border crossings, EURACTIV reported.