Humanitarian Contradictions: The Formation and Demise of the Humanitarian Corridor in Croatia

Friday, 20 July 2018: 18:06
Oral Presentation
Laura HEIDEMAN, Northern Illinois University, USA
For almost six months in 2015-2016, Croatia formed a strong centralized response to the refugee flows through the Western Balkans, with the government providing border-to-border transportation to refugees, as well as coordinating humanitarian aid within its transit camps. While the period of the humanitarian corridor was notable for the relatively high level of humanitarian care provided, particularly in contrast with its neighbors, Croatia’s humanitarian record with asylum seekers since this period has been marked by abuses. Under what circumstances do states respond in humanitarian ways? What are the limitations of state-based humanitarian responses?

This paper studies the formation and demise of the humanitarian corridor using interviews and documents from actors involved in the humanitarians response, including government officials, officials from international organizations, and humanitarian aid workers from both Croatian and international NGOs.

Croatia’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis was unusual because of the degree government centralization. Because the government directed the flow of refugees through its transportation and camp system, Croatia was able to bypass human traffickers and profiteers attempting to take advantage of refugees. Croatia was able to avoid many pitfalls common to humanitarian responses by facilitating communication and cooperation among humanitarian responders.

However, my research shows the contradictions of a government-led humanitarian response. Such a centralized response allowed the government to act as an arbiter of humanitarian aid, determining which groups were allowed to give aid, what groups were allowed to provide aid, where they were allowed to give it, and when groups had access to refugees. This lack of independence became problematic once the government and humanitarian organizations began to diverge in their principles of refugee care. The centralization of the humanitarian response was the driver of both the success and the demise of the humanitarian corridor.