On 11th December 2019 a transit group of 35 males (including at least two minors aged 15 and 17) left from Bihac (BiH) and traveled into the Croatian interior on foot. The group (from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh) walked for three days through the woodland and hills.
The respondents suggested that the group were close to the Slovenian border on 14th December 2019 when they approached a stretch of road. Describing their situation he shared:
“We have no food, we go road”
“Food finish, everything finish, snow falling”
It was approximately 08:00/09:00 in the morning and as the group of 35 approached the road they were apprehended by three Croatian police officers. The authorities were described as wearing dark blue uniforms and having stars sewn into the left breast of their uniform (one officer had two stars, the other two officer had one star). The officers had two unmarked vehicles parked by them. One of the three officers was described as the “boss”, and had some kind of badge hung around his neck.
The transit group were ordered to wait by the road. The group were ordered to hand over their phones and money to the police.
“He [the police officer] take and stole everything… [incl.] money”
The group waited until further police officers arrived in vans. The vans were large marked police vehicles and were driven by a further set of Croatian officers. The transit group were lined up and photographed with a mobile phone, before being forced into the back of one of the vans. Despite their being several vans, all 35 people-on-the-move were reportedly placed in the rear compartment of a single vehicle, making the conditions extremely cramped.
The transit group were driven from the site of apprehension in these extremely uncomfortable conditions. Halfway through the journey, the van stopped and a further two persons were forced into the rear compartment (bringing the total to 37). The two people forced in were men (one Tunisian, one Moroccan). They were later interviewed and shared that Croatian police officers had apprehended them at a bus station.
The transit group of two had been waiting on a bus, having already bought tickets from Slunj (HR) to Zagreb (HR). Croatian officers boarded the vehicle and ordered them off. The men suggested that the bus driver, or station staff, had alerted the authorities to their presence. The two men had then been held by Croatian police, before being transferred into the back of the van (carrying the 35 people initially caught).
The total journey from the first apprehension point took approximately 3.5 hours. The respondents (from both groups) shared how they were partially unloaded in a valley on a dirt road. Only 20 persons (approximate) were taken out of the van by police, meaning a further 17 were left in the rear of the van.
The portion of the transit group that was removed, which included two minors, was brought out into a corridor of Croatian police officers who stood in two lines either side of the vans double doors. The respondents suggest there was approximately 15 Croatian police officers. The transit group could see the two accompanying vans (which had not been used to carry any of the group) parked nearby.
Describing the situation that then unfolded, the respondents used horizontal arm movements to depict the motion of the baton swings inflicted on them by the police officers. The 20 persons were made to move through the corridor of officers and were all subject to this treatment, including the minors. Aside from the road, at the base of the valley where they had been brought was a small river/watercourse. The group were forced to cross/ford this, by order of the Croatian officers. Crossing the water, the transit group became wet and cold, drenching their shoes and trouser legs.
The ejection across the border occurred at approximately 11:40 and the group walked a short distance to the R403b road in BiH, where they sat and rested. The three Croatian police vans then drove along the parallel dirt road on the Croatian side of the border, observed by the group and other eye witnesses. The respondents later indicated a nearby stretch of border, north of Durin Potok, where they believe the remaining 17 people left in the van were pushed back. Asserting a possible cause for this split of locations, one respondent shared that he believed the Croatian officers had observed eyewitnesses on the road in BiH, and therefore had moved from the original pushback spot at 45.112382, 15.786133 in order to expel the remainder of the group.
“When they see your team [eyewitnesses on the road], they [the police] go”
Based on the description of the respondents, the below map suggests the area from which the later group were removed (as confirmed by the direction of the three police vans moving north when observed).
The group, who had been robbed of their money and phones by the police, were then forced to walk approximately 13km along the road in the direction of Velika Kladusa (BiH). Describing the aftermath, the sub-transit group of two (Tunisian and Morrocan) shared their exasperation at the situation, stating “it’s catastrophe”.
The group walked for several hours and then waited until 17:00 to take the bus back to Bihac from a station close to Velika Kladusa. They did not return until 19:00 that night, where many were unsure if they could access the camp accomodation there because their IOM issued camp ID cards had also been taken during the pushback.