A group of 11 men from Algeria left Velika Kladuša on foot and crossed the Croatian border through the forest. They walked during the day using the cover of the forest, and waited for the night to cross exposed areas. After 10 days of walking, the group ran out of food near Skrad (Croatia) and started to look for a supermarket. Two members of the group went out of the forest to a small market place at around 11am on 7th August, where the employees welcomed them well, but did not accept payment in Euros. The two men then found themselves at a nearby currency exchange but were asked for passports to change any money. A woman passing by eventually changed money on their behalf, and the 2 men went back to the supermarket to buy supplies for the group still waiting in the forest.
Just after the two men walked back into the forest to rejoin the entire group, they were intercepted by 2 officers in uniforms and were moved to the side of the road. They were given water and searched for phones and powerbanks. The 2 officers were driving a police van (Mercedes or Volkswagen), and were soon joined by another police car with 3 to 4 officers. 10 members of the group were then put in the police van which had regular space for only 6 persons, and 1 person was told to sit in the police car.
The group told the police their intention to not stay in Croatia but to leave to Italy as soon as possible, but did not receive any response. Then they asked about the possibility of staying in Croatia but did not get an answer either.
Around 12am – 1pm, the group was driven to a police station which the respondent believes was in Rijeka. Photos were taken, and everybody was asked to sign a paper with names and date of birth. The document was in Croatian, and no translation was made available to the group of Arabic and French speakers. They were given drinking water and were allowed to smoke, while their bags were being checked in a corner of the room.
Around 9-10pm, they were given back the food which the group had bought earlier in the supermarket and they had this food as dinner. The 11 men were told that they will be driven to a “big house” and were put into a police van.
After 4 to 5 hours of driving, the van eventually stopped at another police station, where the group waited around 1 hour in the van. The group was searched again. The respondent described this search as an “aggressive search”. They were forbidden to talk. Another paper without any translation was given them to sign, and the respondent said they were forced to sign this paper by the threat of being beaten. At this moment, all the phones taken earlier were given back in one bag, all of them smashed (see picture). The batteries, the SIM cards and the memory cards were missing, and neither was the money in the bag that had also been taken from them.
The group of 11 men was then put in another van. Other than the previous vehicles used to transport them, this van had no windows and no air-conditioning. Around 3am on 8th August, the van stopped at an unknown location, and the authorities took two of the Algerians out of the van. The group of officers was composed of approximately 4 men wearing black uniforms, and approximately 4 men in sky blue uniforms. The respondents mentioned that due to the night it was hard to register the precise number of people at the scene.
The 11 men were taken out of the car two by two, surrounded by the officers. They were told to slap each other on the face (around 5 times each), with the officers laughing at them. After that the officers beat them in unison with batons. One of the four respondents mentioned that he fell on the floor and was acting as dead in the hope of escape.
As they escaped two by two from the beating of the officers, the group scattered and tried to find each other in the dark forest calling for their friends. The officers were still following them through the forest and into a corn field. In the hurried escape, one group member left his bag in the cornfield and went back to collect it later. This is when he found other items abandoned by refugees, together with the same papers the Croatian police made them sign at the police station.
Around 4am on 8th August, the group of 11 men were back in Bosnia. Completely disorientated, they only realised they were back in Bosnia because of the car number plates. With no money or directions they found their way back to Velika Kladuša following the landmarks of the Mosque and the Castle.
All members of the group had injuries from beating with sticks. The 4 people interviewed had bad bruises on their back, on their arms, and their legs (see picture).