News Stories, 16 November 2006
ZAGREB, Croatia, November 16 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency welcomed today a decision by Croatian authorities to grant someone asylum for the first time since the country's independence 15 years ago.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Interior announced that an asylum claim by a 27-year-old woman from a country in eastern Africa had been accepted. The recognition of her refugee status was based on religious grounds and the fact that she could have been subjected to genital mutilation if returned to her country of origin. The woman's identity has not been revealed to protect her privacy.
"With the first-ever recognition of a refugee, Croatia has made an important step towards a fully functioning asylum system, in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention and European standards and practices," said the UNHCR representative in Croatia, Jean-Claude Concolato.
The decision was announced by Assistant Interior Minister Zarko Katic during a workshop for journalists on asylum issues organised jointly by UNHCR, the Ministry of Interior and the Croatian Law Centre, a UNHCR partner which provides free legal aid to asylum seekers. The workshop took place at a reception centre for asylum seekers in Kutina, some 70 kms east of Zagreb.
Since 2004, when the Croatian asylum law entered into force, 382 people have asked for asylum in Croatia but this was the first time that an application was successful. UNHCR hopes that this first recognition of a refugee will pave the way for the implementation of good practices of granting asylum to persons in need of international protection in Croatia.
The next important task will be to assist the recognised refugee in integrating into Croatian society, said Goranka Lalic of the Croatian Law Centre.
According to official statistics, there were 186 asylum applications in Croatia last year. The majority of them were lodged by nationals of Bangladesh, Serbia and Montenegro, India, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Moldova.
By Neven Crvenkovic in Zagreb, Croatia
and William Spindler in Geneva