The crucial element for the protection of their rights and freedoms in the countries receiving them is good preparation based on solidarity, cooperation and the implementation of the experiences gathered in the previous crises and emergencies. Our recommendations, outlined in the remainder of this text, can provide a valuable contribution.

In the first ten days of Russia’s aggression on Ukraine, i.e. the war that has already claimed the lives of a significant number of civilians, nearly 2 million refugees fled the country to reach safety. The Republic of Croatia has joined the states demonstrating full support and solidarity – a move supported by Ombudswoman Šimonović Einwalter. The Ombudswoman commends both the citizens’ willingness and efforts to assist the refugees, as well as those by Croatian Government, that has communicated its intention and is undertaking the preparations to offer safety and support to every person arriving to Croatia as a refugee from Ukraine.

Importantly, the European Union has activated the temporary protection system (Directive 2001/55/EZ), thus enabling the immediate protection provision and granting various rights to the refugees, including the rights to accommodation, education, work and health care.

The involvement of our institution is mainly based on our national human rights and national equality body mandates. From the very beginning we have been active issuing recommendations to the government, drawing from our experiences of handling other crises and emergency situations, such as the 2014 floods in the Vukovar-Srijem County in Eastern Croatia, the migrant crisis of 2015 and 2016, the 2017 fires swiping through the coastal town of Split, as well as the earthquakes that struck the capital and the Sisak-Moslavina county in 2020. In each of these situations we supported the government’s efforts in providing the protecting the rights of the most vulnerable individuals and groups with our recommendations, warnings and opinions, which we will continue doing in this situation as well.

The Initial Step – How to Set up a Well Organized and Efficient Reception and Assistance System?

Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms forms the basis of a well-organized refugee reception and assistance system.

In the remainder of this text we provide an outline for a well thought through response to the current refugee crises, i.e. for the establishment of a well-organized and efficient system based on human rights protection and able to benefit both the refugees as well as the communities that have welcomed them.

  • Efficient, timely and comprehensive registration of all incoming refugees, preferably at the borders

The records thus compiled should be accessible to different bodies and institutions with the aim of providing various rights to the refugees, primarily the rights to health care, education, work and accommodation. The records should include every refugee’s personal chart in which all changes (i.e. of the place of residence) and types of assistance provided should be entered.

  • Detecting and providing additional support during registration to the especially vulnerable groups, while taking into account possible risks (i.e. of human trafficking, etc.)

Vulnerable groups are at a higher risk for human rights violations. Under Art. 4 and 14 of the Act on International and Temporary Protection, they include persons deprived of their legal capacity, children, unaccompanied minors, the elderly and the infirm, seriously ill persons, persons with disabilities, pregnant persons, single parents with underage children, persons with mental illnesses, trafficking victims, victims of torture, rape, or other physical, psychological or sexual violence, as well as victims of female genital mutilation.

  • Providing the refugees with the relevant information right at the border

In order for them to know to whom, when and how they can turn to in order to receive humanitarian and other types of assistance, the refugees need to be provided (in a language they can understand) with the relevant information. In Croatia, the Croatian Red Cross and the Croatian Civil Protection Directorate have prepared a flyer with the basic information in both Croatian and Ukrainian language.

  • Planning accommodation

This element needs to be a priority. The planning must be undertaken at the very beginning of the crisis and should include cooperation with the local communities. Accommodation needs to be planned for the future arrivals as well.

  • Establishing a central contact point for notifications and information exchange

This contact point can gather and disseminate the basic information on the bodies, organizations and coordinations offering direct assistance and humanitarian aid to the refugees. On the other hand, all persons and organizations can provide it with the notifications and information on the refugees entering the Republic of Croatia and their humanitarian needs.

  • Establishing a central coordination point for the NGOs offering humanitarian assistance

With the aim of ensuring the maximum level of efficiency and the coordination of everyone involved and, thus, the efficient and timely provision of assistance to those who need it, this should be done as soon as the need for humanitarian assistance arises and the first initiatives for its provision appear.

  • Providing translation services

Providing adequate translation, either by offering the services of a live translator or by utilizing a video/audio translation service is one of the key priorities aimed at preventing situations in which, for example, a parent is not able to give the adequate information on their child’s health condition, etc.

  • Providing Access to Psychosocial Assistance

The refuges have been exposed to a significant level of trauma, due to the violence they have witnessed, the fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones remaining in the war torn Ukraine, leaving their homes and being separated from their families. Thus, it is crucial to protect their mental health by offering competent, timely and accessible psychosocial support and assistance.

  • Condemning Intolerance and Hate-Speech

To prevent discrimination as well as possible hate crimes, in public communication it is necessary to condemn the proliferation of intolerance and hate speech directed at the persons of Russian origin.

Next Steps – Rights Provision

The steps described above need to include the planning for the next phase – the provision of rights and assistance to the refugees, including:

  • appropriate accommodation
  • sustainable and regular humanitarian aid distribution
  • integration of the children into the education system
  • provision of health care and efficient psychosocial support
  • employment
  • provision of social rights.

Good Planning, Cooperation and Solidarity – Key Elements in Preparations for the Reception and Assistance to the Refugees

The basis for the efficient preparation and implementation lies in cooperation and coordination between the relevant public authorities, while at the same time utilizing the valuable contributions of the regional and local self-government units, independent institutions such as the Ombudsman and the specialized ombuds, as well as the NGO sector and the business community.