Croatian police fire on illegal migrants near Slovenian border

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Croatian police fired on a group of illegal migrants trying to reach neighboring Slovenia late on Saturday, leaving one man critically injured, officials in the northern Adriatic town of Rijeka said.

Croatian Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic told reporters that the group was probably trying to cross into Slovenia, but did not say how many people were in the group or give their nationalities.

Croatia is on a route taken by many migrants from the Middle East and central Asia trying to reach wealthier EU states. Some cross into Croatia from Bosnia undeclared.

“Police officers were preventing the passage of a group which most probably wanted to reach Slovenia,” Bozinovic told media late on Saturday, adding that one man was wounded probably due to the use of firearms.

A doctor at the Rijeka Clinical Hospital Centre said the man in a critical condition had suffered gunshot wounds.

“The patient was admitted for urgent surgery after sustaining gunshot wounds in the area of thorax and stomach,” the doctor told Reuters by telephone on Sunday. “He is in a life-threatening condition and intensive medical treatment is continuing.”

Bozinovic said regional authorities would investigate the incident, which took place in the mountainous Gorski Kotar area close to Rijeka, which is around 20 km (12 miles) from the Slovenian border.

Croatia, which wants to join the EU’s border-free Schengen area, has to convince Brussels that it is able to effectively manage the bloc’s external border, a particularly sensitive issue since Europe’s 2015 migrant crisis.

Neighboring Bosnia, which has become a migrant hot-spot since 2018, has repeatedly accused Croatia of returning migrants to Bosnia even when they are found deep in its territory. Many migrants have been complaining of brutality of Croatian police officers, allegations that Croatia has dismissed.

Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Susan Fenton