Asylum and Illegal Migration in the Republic of Croatia

28 Pages Posted: 16 May 2004

See all articles by Davor Sopf

Davor Sopf

UNHCR Branch Office Zagreb, Croatia

Date Written: December 2002


Tragic events of September 11. 2001 in the United States have brought many changes to the international relations, policies, and laws and have also significantly contributed to the general attitude toward asylum seekers and migrants globally. As a result, some countries reshaped and reduced their refugee resettlement programs; general trend of tightening border controls drastically increased and perception of asylum seekers as a possible threat to society received its new foundation - fear of terrorism.

Even prior to the terrorist attacks, international regime guiding protection of refugees was under close observation by many States, arguing that international refugee protection regime was not adequate to deal with emerging challenges: increase in irregular migration, trafficking in persons and smuggling, mass flaws of people knocking at the borders.

From the historical perspective, flying from persecution and seeking protection elsewhere is known from the earliest history of human mankind. However, it was only in 1921 when the League of Nations appointed the first high commissioner for refugees and the structure of the refugee law started to emerge. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was mandated to extend international protection to refugees in 1950. In 1951 the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees was drafted with participation of 26 countries and universal definition of refugee, although with geographical and temporal limitations, was codified. Continuously changing circumstances and reasons of refugee migration required amendments to the International Instruments. In 1967, Protocol to the 1951 Convention was opened, lifting its temporal and geographical limitations. Specific refugee situations in Africa and Latin America required adoption of the regional refugee instruments which introduced an "extended refuge definition", providing protection to those forced to leave their homes due to the wars, situations of general violence or famine. In 1980s and 1990s, situation started to change drastically, worldwide.

The number of refugees grew from a few million in late 1970s to approximately 22 millions today. Violations of Human Rights and grave breaches of Humanitarian Law became part of the military strategy, resulting in drastic increase of civilians forced to move as a result of wars. Refugee receiving countries started to feel overburdened, starting to question adequacy of the 1951 Convention in relation to the new migration flaws. Indeed, the situation worldwide changed a lot, however, the 1951 Convention is still the only comprehensive and most widely accepted international instrument for refugee protection. It was not created to serve as a migration control instrument, but rather aims to secure widest possible respect for the corner-stone principle of non-refoulment, stressing that refugees can not be reasonably expected to enter countries of refuge in a regular manner and that they should not be penalized for that.

Migration patterns of today, indicate the fact that vast majority of genuine convention refugees, not only enter the receiving countries illegally, but are forced to use smuggling channels and are therefore frequently victims of traffickers in human beings.

Suggested Citation

Sopf, Davor, Asylum and Illegal Migration in the Republic of Croatia (December 2002). Available at SSRN: or

Davor Sopf (Contact Author)

UNHCR Branch Office Zagreb, Croatia ( email )

R. Austrije 25
10000 Zagreb

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